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Thousands of aspiring teachers coming out of North Carolina's education colleges can't pass a high school level math licensing exam, so state officials may scrap it to lower the bar.

The state Board of Education learned in August that 2,400 elementary and special education teachers have flunked the math portion of the state license exam, which was created by the education company Pearson. Then last week, research presented to the state's Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission showed new teachers who passed the math exam on the first try did not perform significantly better in evaluations than those who had to retake it.

The Charlotte Observer reports:
Currently elementary and special education teachers must pass three exams, all created by Pearson, to earn a license: reading, math and a 'multi-subject' test that includes science and social studies. (Kevin Bastian, UNC-Chapel Hill researcher who conducted the research) told the panel that the only significant correlation his study found was that scores on the reading test were linked to better student results in grades K-2 and better job evaluations.
The standards commission includes teachers, administrators and representatives from colleges of education - those most impacted by the situation. Teachers are complaining because the $139 tests get expensive when they have to repeatedly retake them, while others allege it could ultimately cost them a career they're otherwise well-suited for.

"It's not an indicator of an effective teacher," said Cabarrus County Schools Assistant Superintendent Glenda Jones, a member of the commission. "It is a barrier to licensure and that trickles down to being vacancies in the classroom and a teacher shortage."

"We've got teachers who are taking that same Pearson (math exam) over and over and over and are not passing, and the cost's coming out of their pockets at $35,000 a year for a beginning teacher," she said.

Comment: Maybe they could ask some of their star math students to tutor them...

Robin Hiatt, a commission member and teacher in Johnson County Schools, said some educators spend hundreds of dollars to secure their credentials.

"Right now I've got a kindergarten teacher who has spent $600 of her money on taking the test and test-prep programs," Haitt said.

The commission ultimately voted to get rid of the Pearson math test, as well as the "multi-subject" test that's not required by state law. The panel voted to replace the math exam with a "Praxis" math test develop by the nonprofit ETS.

The recommendations were forwarded to the state Board of Education for potential action next month.

The Observer did not cite anyone who spoke in favor of keeping the current math exam, though the news site acknowledged "defenders of the Pearson math test have said teachers of young children need to understand the concepts of higher math to prepare their students.

"It's not unreasonable to ask college graduates to demonstrate proficiency on middle or high school math, they add," according to the news site.

In August, the Observer reported that before the state switched to the Pearson math test in 2014, pass rates for the test "hovered around 85 percent or higher." That figure dropped to 65 percent in 2014-15, then to 54.5 percent by 2016-17.

States including Florida and Indiana are dealing with a similar trend.

Instead of considering ways colleges can better educate future teachers to pass the tests, the focus thus far has remained mostly on whether the Pearson test is to rigorous.

The Observer reports "Concern about the validity of the Pearson licensing exams is so pervasive that it was discussed at this year's National Education Association (teachers union) conference, said North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell."

Pearson, meanwhile, has defended the math exam, pointing out that states set their own standards.

"Test scores required for passing are determined by the State and are informed by recommendations from North Carolina educators resulting from standard setting activities," spokesman Scott Overland wrote in a statement. "Pearson does not place any artificial barriers in the way of candidate success and only considers test scores as criteria for passage."