Title II of the 1998 Higher Education Act requires states to report their pass rates on teacher licensure exams, which assess how much the prospective teachers know about the subjects they are preparing to teach. Since the majority of states give one of only two exams, states should be able to compare their performance on this crucial measure.

Not so. Every state sets its own passing score on whatever exam it administers. The same performance might earn a student a passing mark in one state but not pass muster in another.

The project addressed this problem by comparing the raw scores of students in three states (Kentucky, Nevada, and South Carolina) that administer many of the same Praxis exams. By obtaining actual test results from these states, the project could compare the students' performances by then determining what pass rates each state would have seen if its students had been held to the highest state standard for passing that particular exam.

The results were startling (see Table 1).

Kentucky's students, who had an 81.3% pass rate on the Praxis subject-matter exams, would have had only a 57.4% pass rate if they had been measured by the highest standard in the nation. In contrast, 77.4% of South Carolina's students passed the exam, even though they did better—at 59.1%—than Kentucky's if measured by the highest standard.

The situation was even more extreme in the basic-skills test, Praxis I (see Table 2). All Kentucky's future teachers passed that test (since they needed to do so to enter the state's teacher-education programs). But they performed less well than Nevada's students, only 82.8% of whom passed the exam. If measured by the nation's highest standard, only 31.1% of Kentucky's students would have passed, whereas 52.7% of Nevada's would have succeeded.

A state that is complacent about its pass rates on teacher licensure exams would do well to examine the numbers more closely, since they may mask serious underperformance in an area critical to the state's future.

Table 1.
Pass Rates for Praxis II: Subject Knowledge
Percentage of Students Passing

Table 2.
Praxis I: Basic Skills
Percentage of Students Passing


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