ETS and HBCU Deans Work to Improve Students’ Praxis Scores - Higher Education

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ETS and HBCU Deans Work to Improve Students’ Praxis Scores

by Angela P. Dodson

PRINCETON, N.J.

Deans and other administrators from teacher-education programs at historically Black colleges and universities who attended a conference at the Educational Testing Service here say they are taking back information to give their students a better chance at passing qualifying and certification tests.

Twenty-five educators attended the Second Annual ETS-HBCU Assessment Development Invitational Conference this week at the ETS conference center. Organizers were Dr. Linda Scatton, director of the Policy Evaluation and Research Center, and Katherine Bassett, director of educator relations.

In most of the colleges and universities, participants said students must pass an initial exam developed by ETS, the Praxis I, to be admitted to teacher-preparation programs. Those admitted take the Praxis II at or near the end of their training to qualify for teacher certification. According to ETS, Praxis I, the Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST), measures basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics. The Praxis II, Subject Tests, measure knowledge of specific K-12 subjects, as well as teaching skills and knowledge.

“Passing the Praxis is a big deal at my college,” Helen Owens, assistant professor of education at Lane College in Tennessee, told Diverse. “The more I know about this test, the more I can assist my students. I have learned how the test is put together, how it is scored, how they can prepare. I learned some things that take out some of the mystery of the test.”

Less than half of African-Americans who take Praxis I pass the exams, according to Dr. Drew H. Gitomer, a senior scientist and distinguished appointee at ETS.

However, Gitomer, who presented preliminary findings of ETS research on African-Americans who take the Praxis tests, encouraged participants to look at failure on the Praxis I as “an important signal that needs to be attended to in order to avoid later disappointment.” He said that early research indicates students who struggle with Praxis I generally will not succeed in the teaching program.

The educators in attendance said that they often saw a need for more work before college to eliminate deficits and that many students who aspire to teaching complete the coursework but fail the Praxis II and must take it multiple times at considerable expense to enter their field. This comes at a time of teacher shortages in schools in urban, minority and low-income districts, as well as in remote rural areas, according the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. About 8 percent of public school teachers in the United States are Black, compared to 17 percent of the students, according to the National Education Association.

Dr. Linda Tyler, associate vice president of the Higher Education Division, said ETS wanted to “lift the curtain” on how tests are structured and worded so students will not be confused by the tests themselves and can be judged on what they know.

“We believe that by lifting the cover, letting you see the gears … you can go back and help your students understand what they are dealing with in Praxis and on any ‘high-stakes’ test,” she said.

Cory Murphy, ETS director of client relations, cited a 2005 market research study that indicated more than half of all Praxis candidates did not prepare in any way for the tests. He emphasized that being familiar with the wording of questions, studying for material they do not know, managing time well during a test and reducing anxiety can make a major difference in the outcome. Everyone who registers for the tests gets basic information on those things, and more help is available online, Murphy noted.

Participants told ETS officials that African-American students and educators have often been told that there was no way to prepare for such standardized tests, while more-privileged students were coached heavily. Many of the college representatives said they now offer extensive test-preparation workshops, tutors and computerized practice aids.

Patricia Brooks, assistant dean of the College of Education of Mississippi Valley State University, said information on free or low-cost study aids “should be most useful to us and the conference is a great benefit to all of us.”

Dr. Andolyn B. Harrison, chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership of Grambling State University in Louisiana, said ETS had provided “information that we can take back … to ensure that our students improve their scores.” She cited free online “webinars” that ETS initiated this month to answer faculty and students’ questions about the exams.

Dr. Josephine Posey, dean of the School of Education and Psychology of Alcorn State University in Mississippi, said she benefited most from brief presentations by selected representatives on their teacher-education programs and how they teach students to take the tests.

“We did get ideas from each other and saw how we complemented each other,” Posey said. “The sharing of resources was valuable.”

Scatton said ETS plans to continue the conferences, possibly with adjustments based on the suggestions from this year’s session and with more schools.

     ETS also plans to present more 45-minute Web seminars, or webinars, to help Praxis I test takers develop a study plan. For more information, log on to http://ntis12.ets.org/SF/7998-B.html

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