Collecting and analyzing candidates' performance data without using that information to answer evaluation questions about the program's merit and worth provides little incentive for the design and maintenance of complex assessment systems such as the unit has developed and now employs. The unit's expectations for how the planned assessment system might contribute to improvement of its programs intentions were described in that 2001 plan for that system. Some of those anticipated applications have been realized, while others remain before us. While we have invested much of our energy in refining elements of the assessment system, we are finding new ways to use that system to improve our licensure programs as our system matures.
Minnesota's new licensure examinations, adopted in the fall of 2010, include tests of academic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics that the test developer has set at or near the expected skills and knowledge of a second year college student. The former skills test developed by the Educational Testing Service, the Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST), while never "normed," was described as at or below the performance expected of high school graduates. In the past two years since the MTLE Basic Skills test was specified by the Board of Teaching for all prospective teachers, about 20 percent of our prospective teachers who attempt the test in their first year of study, as requested, report scores at or below the passing score on reading, writing, or mathematics.
Using prospective candidates' scores on the units EDUC 111 embedded writing assessment as well as the MTLE and ACT subtests for writing, we found strong positive correlations between the MTLE for the small sample now available. We also found low correlations between those two fixed response tests, each of which includes a small writing sample on a topic of little interest to test takers, and our screening essays writing for course assignments on topics related to teaching and learning. As the candidate pool increases we may be able to set a threshold score for our screening exam and for the ACT that could predict a reasonable chance of passing the MTLE. In the past we found an ACT score of 24 or higher on the writing subtest predicted a passing score on the PPST for three out of four prospective candidates.
As our sample of test takers increases, additional exploration of the relationship between MTLE academic skills scores and ACT scores with success on MTLE licensure examinations in content or pedagogy. Relationships among these measures may help the unit and its prospective candidates decisions about needed developmental work, as recent studies from ETS suggest that candidates' low PPST scores as predictive of low scores on licensure content tests.
Preliminary licensure test results suggest that while our overall three year running average exceeds the expected 80% passing rate for program completers as confirmed by our Title II reports, two of our licensure programs counter that trend. Our K-6 candidates who seek to add a middle level mathematics license to their core elementary licenses have a low passing rate which approximates the state passing rate of less than 20% of examinees. Candidates who have attempted this test report a wide range of possible flaws in its design, from too little time to read test instructions, to an on-screen calculator that does not record keystrokes as do modern mathematics calculators. The Board of Teaching's staff members have shared these concerns with Pearson, and received in return promised improvements. We have examined our middle level mathematics curriculum in light of these test results, but without more detailed test data, our search for flaws in the courses and topics that form this licensure has not been successful.
A similar problem has emerged for with those seeking the middle level endorsement in Spanish so that they might teach that language to students in kindergarten through grade eight. Our unit passing rate for this test is below the 80% threshold, approaching the 30% state-wide pass rate experienced by middle level Spanish candidates from all institutions. Our first at why candidates might not pass suggests that their preparation in the content area may emphasize the culture and literature of Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries over competent speaking, listening, and writing in that language. Although all candidates must pass a screening examination conducted by the Spanish department's faculty, the proficiency level set by state standards may be too lower than required to pass the licensure test. Flaws in the design of this test are also evident from the shared experience of those who have completed it.
Have the unit's efforts to prepare candidates for practice in multicultural settings been successful? While comments from graduates teaching in highly diverse settings suggest the helpfulness of the unit's efforts to provide all candidates with opportunities to teach students from a different economic, cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds, much more remains to be learned about the demands our graduates face and the ways in which our licensure programs can help them meet those demands. Several semesters of formative review of our prospective elementary candidates' experiences in their "urban plunge" uncovered facets of that experience that were used to inform the development of a similar urban experience for secondary candidates. Our diversity transcript, while not yet able to document all students ' experiences in diverse educational settings, suggests that more candidates enjoy a greater range of experiences than in past years. Student teachers' experiences in working with diverse learners, as revealed in their portfolios and work samples, have been positive. Immigration will continue to bring new residents from other countries to Minnesota who will settle in urban areas, including Saint Cloud. Several Saint Cloud elementary schools in which our candidates complete field and clinical experiences are now more diverse that Twin Cities Metropolitan area schools. While we are only beginning to unlock the potential for further work in this area, initial results are promising. National and state conversations on the nature, causes, effects, and reduction of the "achievement gap" among Minnesota's students of color continue to look to teachers to fill that gap. While skilled, committed teachers can help close the gap, closing significant "opportunity" gaps related to employment and income will likely have a stronger effect.