Teacher Certification Data

Now, I’m the first to admit that the study I’m about to discuss is a little old, clocking in at 2000. The findings of Ronald F. Ferguson and Jordana Brown about the relationship between student achievement and scores on teacher certification exams are still interesting for what they reveal about the early days of mandatory state boards for Texas teachers–and could possibly still mean for today’s candidates.

The article states the following:

Texas required all of its teachers to pass the TECAT or relinquish their jobs in 1986. The test was essentially a reading, vocabulary, and language skills test, geared to about an eleventh grade level of difficulty. Some teachers had to retake it, but most eventually passed. Controlling statistically for a host of school and community characteristics, I found that district-average TECAT scores were strong predictors of why some school districts had higher student reading and math scores and larger year-to-year gains (Ferguson 1991). Thus, at least for Texas, a certification test that measured no specific teaching skills and that challenged teachers at only an eleventh grade level of difficulty seemed to distinguish among levels of teacher effectiveness. (Ferguson & Brown, 2000, p. 139)

He studied data from 900 school districts (that’s districts, not schools), so it’s a large sampling. Ferguson (2000) also found that African-American teachers had lower scores on the exam, as did any teachers who taught in predominantly minority districts (p. 140).

So, in essence, a test that sounds pretty much like high-school reading comprehension predicted how well someone might perform in a math classroom. This makes sense, to me, since so much of today’s mathematics are grounded in word problems. It’s hard to construct a proof for geometry if you can’t write basic directions and sentences: If angle A is 60 degrees and the triangle is equilateral, then angles B and C also must equal 60 degrees.

As an English teacher, I like this study because it emphasizes the potential importance of reading skills for success on state exams. I know this is true of the MCAT (medical school entrance exam as well), since I had virtually no biology background when I took a practice test; I just read the passages very carefully and drew the right conclusions.

photo of a bookstorehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/shelbychicago/3617890489/

Today’s certification exams include area-specific content as well as pedagogy, but the underlying principles remain the same: if you can read effectively and have a good grasp of the English language, you’re bound to do better.


Ferguson, R.F., & Brown, J. (2000). Certification test scores, teacher quality, and student achievement. In D. Grissmer and J.M. Ross (Eds.), Analytic issues in the assessment of student writing (pp.133-156).  Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.msu.edu/user/mkennedy/TQQT/PDFs/FergusonBrown00.pdf


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