- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Hopeful Missouri teachers will have more time to answer fewer questions on some certification exams after complaints that not enough candidates were passing, but the State Board of Education stopped short Tuesday of lowering the scores needed to pass.

Panels of educators and others tasked with advising the best way to prepare and certify teachers recommended lowering passing scores after fewer than half of test-takers passed on six of the tests. One member also raised concerns that black test-takers scored disproportionately worse on some tests.

But some board members argued a lower passing rate means those who might be unqualified are less likely to teach.

Board member John Martin said standards for teaching have been so low, “any idiot can get into it.”

“I don’t think everybody belongs in the classroom,” Martin said. “In order to teach something, you first have to know something to teach.”

At issue are more rigorous teacher certification exams put in place in September. Missouri axed the Praxis II test in favor of the Missouri Content Assessment to match ramped-up standards teachers are now expected to teach K-12 students.

Candidates aiming to teach math and science fared the worst, and many districts are struggling to find qualified educators to teach those subjects.

The pass rate for people seeking to teach middle school math dropped to 45 percent from 100 percent. At the high-school level, the pass rate dropped to 19 percent from 72.9 percent for math, to 25 percent from 66.7 percent for physics, to 52 percent from 65.1 percent for chemistry, to 52 percent from 59.1 percent for general sciences and to 55 percent from 79.9 percent for biology.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the agency will cut down the number of questions on some of those tests and give test-takers an extra 15 minutes.

Committees also are set to reevaluate the tests’ content and check for bias.

Black test-takers scored 18-43 percent lower on six tests, said Paul Katnik, an assistant commissioner for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He said those six tests were the only ones with enough minority participants to show statistically significant trends.

Alexander Cuenca, a social studies education assistant professor at St. Louis University and member of an educator preparation panel, said the tests are blocking access for those who want to work as teachers, especially black educators. Cuenca called that “deeply troubling.”

He also said education schools have not had enough time to prepare students and questioned whether the tests were a valid assessment.

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine.

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