States across America are experiencing teacher shortages. In response, some states have lowered their teacher licensing standards, hoping to widen the pool from which they find qualified candidates.
This case study explores two states that lowered Praxis scores and one that does not use the Praxis exam and how they each address their teacher shortage.
The case study shows that states have alternatives to lowering test scores, including apprenticeships and on-the-job training that create meaningful pathways to becoming an educator without unnecessarily lowering test scores in the name of “diversity.”
The Teacher Shortage in Numbers
According to USA Today, 4% of teaching positions across the nation are vacant, but some districts, especially those in urban and rural areas, experience more acute teacher shortages.
A working paper from Brown University found that nationwide there are at least 36,000 vacant positions and at least 163,000 positions held by underqualified teachers.
The states with the highest teacher shortages have more than 3,000 vacant teacher roles.
Some question the shortage’s severity. A 74 million article titled Analysis: ‘Teacher Shortage’ –A History told in Numbers and Decades explains that following the windfall of COVID-19 relief money, some districts expanded their workforce, leading to increased job vacancies.
Either way, some states face teacher shortages, leading some states to lower their teacher licensure standards, including the widely used Praxis exam.
What is a Praxis Test?
Praxis is a company that makes standardized tests for teacher licensures. All states, except for Florida, Illinois, Arizona, and Michigan, use a Praxis test to determine eligibility for individuals to teach at a particular grade level or a specific subject.
According to ETS, Praxis’s parent company, “The Praxis® tests measure the knowledge and skills you need to prepare for the classroom. Whether you’re entering a teacher preparation program or seeking your certification, these tests will help you on your journey to become a qualified educator.”
There are two main test types, Core and Subject. The Core test focus on Reading, Math, and Writing. The Subject tests focus on subject-specific knowledge ranging from Agriculture to World Languages.
According to a 2019 Forbes article, the tests have a relatively low pass rate, “Fifty-four percent of those who take the Praxis test on elementary-level content fail on their first try. Twenty-five percent never manage to pass. (In nursing, by contrast, 85% of test-takers pass their licensing test on the first try.”
The Teacher’s Union, Praxis Tests, and Diversity
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the United States’ second largest teacher labor union with $97,000,000 of assets, sees the Praxis exam as a barrier to teacher success and diversity, “The AFT is tackling this issue on two fronts: by helping individuals pass the existing test, and by working closely with ETS to dig into why the Praxis has become such an impediment to growing and maintaining a strong and diverse teacher workforce.”
The numbers show that, indeed, black test takers tend to score lower than their white counterparts. According to AFT, “Another problem is the deep racial disparity in Praxis success/fail rates. According to ETS statistics, 92 percent of white test-takers pass the reading portion of the test, compared with 68 percent of African American test-takers. Seventy-seven percent of white test-takers pass the writing portion, compared with 42 percent of black test-takers; and 72 percent of white test-takers pass the math portion, compared with 36 percent of black test-takers.” AFT thinks the bigger problem is diversity rather than a qualified applicant pool. But, as we will see, there are practical solutions for widening an applicant pool and creating opportunities for people to become educators without lowering Praxis cut scores.
Impact on Students
Research suggests a teacher’s Praxis test score impacts middle and high school math and is “highly predictive” of student achievement, particularly in high school biology. The Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research analyzed the correlation between teacher test scores and student performance, “We focus on three subject/grade combinations—middle school math, ninth grade algebra and geometry, and ninth-grade biology—and find evidence that a teacher’s basic skills test scores are modestly predictive of student achievement in middle and high school math and highly predictive of student achievement in high school biology.”
This study explores two states, Virginia and Mississippi, which lowered the scores, and one state, Florida, which does not use the Praxis exam at all.
Three States Addressing Teacher Shortages
According to the Joint Legislative Review Commission, “prior to the pandemic, there were about 800 vacant teaching positions statewide, on average.” That number rose “substantially” to about 2,800 vacant positions in October 2021 and 3,300 as of mid-August 2022.”
Virginia elected and non-officials alike are addressing the shortage.
Lowering Teacher Praxis Test Scores
Meanwhile, Virginia has experienced a decline in reading and math scores from 2019-22. Lowering licensing standards may solve the immediate problem of filling teacher vacancies. Still, they may negatively impact the learning experience for students.
In Sept. 2022, Gov. Youngkin issued an Executive Directive outlining nine steps for addressing teacher shortages by “removing obstacles” that prevent people from becoming teachers. The guidance focuses on creating pathways to becoming an educator, flexibility for renewing licenses and using qualitative data from educators to inform policy decisions.
Other Attempts to Address Virginia’s Teacher Shortage
In fall 2022, a FOIA request from WTOP revealed that Fairfax County School Board, which governs Fairfax County Schools outside Washington, DC considered recruiting teachers from Barbados.
The next state is Mississippi, which lowered Praxis scores as part of its approach to addressing teacher shortages.
In Oct. 2022, it was reported that “1 in 5” Mississippi teachers left over the past year. A January 2023 Washington Post article said, “For every 10,000 students there, 69 teacher positions are unfilled or filled by someone without traditional credentials.”
Mississippi is addressing the shortage in a handful of ways, including lowering Praxis scores, a practice that dates back to at least 2018.
Lowering Teacher Praxis Test Scores
In May 2018, the Mississippi State Board of Education voted to lower the required math score from 160 to 152. Paula Vanderford, chief accountability officer for the Mississippi Department of Education, said, “By no means will this address (the math teacher shortage), adjusting the score will not resolve that issue,”
One year later, in June 2019, the Mississippi Board of Education lowered the passing scores for the math Praxis exam from 150 to 130.
Lowering Standards for Enrolling in Teacher’s Colleges
A 2020 article titled Coronavirus is making it easier to become a teacher in a state with severe shortage of educators outlines how the state is addressing these teacher shortages. Mississippi used to require a minimum ACT score of 21 or a passing score on the Praxis exam to enroll in a state college or university’s education program. Still, these standards have been too high, reducing state teacher colleges’ enrollment. So, as a temporary measure, the state removed the testing requirements for aspiring teachers through December 2021.
Creating Pathways to Becoming a Teacher
In 2021, the Mississippi Governor’s Education Human Capital Task Force released a report outlining their plan to address the shortages. The plan includes steps such as “Redesign Teacher Pathways, Supports, Licensure and Compensation,” which “expanding pathways into teaching, redesigning teacher licensure, improving teacher supports and revising teacher compensation.” The plan also includes using data to understand the “correlation between educational outcomes and workforce development.”
According to a January 2023 report, “There were nearly 5,300 teacher openings statewide listed in January, up from just around 1,500 five years ago.”
The Department of Education also issued a Critical Shortage Areas Report that “shows Florida’s teacher education programs are graduating only about a third of the candidates needed in our classrooms.”
The state may not have a pipeline of college graduates who want to teach.
Florida and Illinois, Arizona, and Michigan do not use the Praxis scores. So, unlike Virginia, lowering Praxis scores is not a method by which Florida can fill teacher vacancies. This suggests that Praxis scores in and of themselves are not barriers to becoming a teacher because Florida, a state with no Praxis scores, has one of the worst teacher shortages in the nation.
The Florida Department of Education announced Three New Initiatives to Elevate Teachers and Students’ Learning, outlining how they will address the teacher shortages. Like Virginia’s plan, which focuses on “removing obstacles,” Florida’s plan creates pathways for people to become educators. In addition, this plan includes expanding opportunities for military veterans and first responders and a teacher apprenticeship with on-the-job training.
“This proposal will require school unions to represent at least 60% of employees eligible for representation, an increase over the current 50% threshold, and allow state investigations into unions suspected of fraud, waste and abuse. Additionally, the proposal will require annual audits and financial disclosures for unions.”
Comparing Virginia, Mississippi, and Florida shows that there are ways to address teacher shortages without lowering standardized test scores. Reducing red tape and creating meaningful pathways like on-the-job training and apprenticeships will attract a qualified applicant pool of people wanting to teach in k-12 public schools.
Regarding diversity, plans for teacher training and certification that reduce bureaucracy and create meaningful and rigorous pathways to becoming a teacher give people from all walks of life an opportunity to join the millions of hardworking people educating America’s children.
Note on School Violence and the Teacher Shortage:
This case study focused on lowering teacher Praxis scores to address teacher shortages. However, it should be noted that school violence has been increasing over the past several years, and this may be why many are leaving the profession.
The Fordham Institute attributes some of the teacher shortage to a lack of discipline in schools and public policy that weakens teachers’ and administrators’ ability to expel or suspend students.
Over the past several years, schools have decreased school suspensions. This is largely a result of a 2014 Obama Dear Colleague Letter. According to Max Eden’s City Journal article, “Sanity on Discipline,” “The DCL, issued in 2014, advised school superintendents nationwide that racial disparities in suspension rates would be grounds for finding school districts in violation of federal anti-discrimination law, and therefore at risk of losing federal funding.”
Since then, schools have been reticent to use suspension as discipline for fear of running afoul of federal guidance. To best address the teacher shortage, lawmakers must identify the root causes and then find appropriate solutions, which include addressing school violence.
|Subject and Grade
|Grade 4 Math
|Grade 8 Math
|Grade 4 Reading
|Grade 8 Reading