Test results indicate Idaho’s teacher prep programs are not aligned to licensure exams

Almost half of Idaho elementary teacher candidates fail to pass their licensure test on their first attempt, an indication that college prep programs are not aligned to the exam.

Forty-seven percent of 1,685 Idaho test takers failed their elementary licensure test on their first attempt, according to data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality over a three-year period (2015-2018).  Idaho teacher candidates are able to take the test multiple times and eventually 86% passed the test.

However, the low first-year pass rate — both in Idaho and the nation — may point to a misalignment between the preparation candidates receive and the state’s expectations for future elementary teachers, according to the NCTQ. On an individual level, said the NCTQ, failing these tests can be demoralizing, causing delays in job searches and unforeseen expenses when candidates have to study for and retake the test multiple times.

The NCTQ published a report of 38 states, showing how effectively institutions are preparing elementary teachers for entering schools and passing the test. The average first-time pass rate nationwide is 45%, which Idaho outperforms with its 53% pass rate.

Jennifer Snow, the interim dean at Boise State University’s College of Education, said her institution does not teach to the questions on the Praxis exam. Snow said it’s more important to prepare teacher candidates to become educators than it is to help them prepare for the exam, which they can study for outside of university class time. “It’s more important to me that they are prepared to create lessons and a curriculum based on the content.”

About the exam

In order to become an elementary teacher in Idaho, college students have to pass the Praxis II Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects (5001) test. The test covers elementary-level material that an educator would be expected to teach in the classroom and consists of four sections: math, language arts, social studies and science. Students must pass all four categories to earn a license.

In its report, the NCTQ said gaps in licensure test rates can be indicative of nationwide inequities in K-12 education because the Praxis consists of content an Idaho student would learn before entering college.

In order to receive a BSU teaching degree, students take some general studies classes, including math and science classes. But Snow said there’s a good chance that students will not get everything they need for the Praxis exam in their required university science classes.

“You need to have some social studies. You need mathematics. And we do have required math courses, but there’s more content (in the Praxis test),” Snow said. “In the College of Education, we don’t teach math.”

Snow pointed to the college’s Teaching Mathematical Thinking course, which provides students ways they can teach math, but does not teach them curriculum that would be useful for the Praxis math test.

Starting next school year, Idaho colleges are moving to a new assessment test with Praxis, called Elementary Education: Content Knowledge for Teaching (7811). Snow said the education staff at Boise State is excited for the new exam, which is expected to be more focused on general knowledge than specifics, such as particular dates for historical events.  

A breakdown of Idaho colleges and universities

The school with the highest pass rates in Idaho occurred at Brigham Young University, Idaho, with 58% of its 734 students passing the licensure test on their first try. Lewis-Clark State College had the lowest first-attempt pass rate, at just 33%.

The leading institution in best-attempt pass rates (where a student passes, but not necessarily on their first try) was at the University of Idaho, where 91% of the school’s 143 teaching candidates eventually passed the test.

The lowest ranking school in best-attempt pass rates was the College of Idaho, with a 77% pass rate. Students at C of I are also most likely to take the test three or more times, with 27% doing so. Statewide, 12% of candidates have to take the test three or more times.

Idaho’s walk-away rate is 16%, which means that one in six Idaho teaching candidates fails the test the first time and does not retake the test. This number rises to 23% for students of color.

At BSU, professors encourage students to take practice tests that the Praxis makes available on its website.

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