The Ohio Department of Education changed their educator license exams this past September from the Praxis II, provided by the Educational Testing Service, to the Ohio Assessment for Educators, provided by Pearson.
This change is not merely cosmetic though; the new tests bring several systemic shifts in Ohio’s approach to these license exams. Charles Howell, dean of the Beeghly College of Education, said these new tests are rigorous.
“I want to tell you that the test is very challenging. … There are about 25 different tests in different content areas. And for some of those tests, the statewide pass rate is as low as 20 percent. We are very concerned that this test has not been properly vetted,” Howell said.
Students taking the license exams are given distinct tests based on their particular area of study. The new tests, across all content areas, require a minimum score of 220 to pass, unlike the Educational Testing Service, which had differing minimum pass scores for each content area. Students who fail are required to pay as much as $105 to retake the test.
“We are very concerned that the test scores are not appropriate,” Howell said. “The state is going to review the test scores and possibly adjust them in the spring, but they are not going to make the adjustment retroactive. So that means that if John Jones took the test and he got a 215 in September and the Ohio Department of Education realizes that hardly anybody is passing the test at the cut score of 220. Well John failed the test, he has got to pay again to take the test.”
Prior to the implementation of the test, Regina Rees, associate professor of teacher education, said Pearson asked professors from around Ohio to attend a conference, take a sample test and give Pearson feedback.
“They wanted to tailor their tests for Ohio standards. For two-and-a-half days, I went to Columbus and took every single question in the test bank for one of their tests. We had to evaluate each question with different criteria. It was a fascinating process, high security,” Rees said. “It was [all] individual, we didn’t talk to anybody. We took these tests as if we were students.”
Although many faculty members participated in the review panels, universities were not shown the final versions. Mary Lou DiPillo, associate dean of BCOE, said that Pearson has provided resources on the website and 30-day access to practice tests that costs between $17.50 and $29.95.
“With the beginning of the new test, the Pearson folk put up a website and there is some information on there about the test. They do provide an overview of each of the tests that tells you some basic categories, some basic content that you should know, they give you a few practice questions. … They also will provide for the students a practice test, but you [the student] have to buy it,” DiPillo said. “What our dean did was he told the faculty that if they wish to get a group of students together to take a look at the test, we would buy it.”
Howell said that the college is also asking teachers across the university to take the sample test as well and adjust courses appropriately.
“In some content areas, we are changing the contents of our courses to better reflect this new test,” he said. “The college is paying for faculty in the various content areas to take the sample test so they will be better prepared to review the content with students. However, there is no guarantee that the sample tests are exactly aligned with the contents of the actual test.”
As a result of limited resources provided by Pearson, the college has had to adapt quickly and creatively.
“We are providing free support services to students who feel they may need it in preparing for the test,” Howell said. “We also contributed approximately $4,500 to the YSU testing center so that they could qualify to offer this test right on campus for our students. Previously, our students would have to make an appointment at some other site and drive there. We think it will reduce student anxiety and make it more convenient for them to take the test if we offer it here.”
Howell said he has been in contact with Pearson, seeking specific information on the tests.
“We have been working closely with Pearson to get clarification on testing procedures and content or resources available to students. Pearson has been somewhat responsive, but we have to keep pushing them,” he said. “Our intention is to make sure all of our students get through it.”
Howell assured he will continue to strive to make this transition easier for students by pushing the state for further adjustments and by providing additional resources.
“We will do whatever we need to do to make sure we continue our strong records, and that includes providing a lot of services without additional cost to the students, making sure that faculty have an opportunity to get all the information they possibly can about this test, and we will also advocate with the state department of education to make sure that both tests are correctly aligned with what students are going to teach and that the passing scores are adjusted to fairly reflect what students actually need to know,” Howell said.