Sunday, March 20, 2011

The WEST-E and Teacher Quality

A couple of years back Washington State decided to make passing the WEST-E test a requirement for initial certification. It was done in the spirit of raising the bar, making sure teachers are highly qualified, and verifying content area knowledge.

But has it worked?

On Eastern's website they have a list put together by the education department of WEST-E passing rates for the students in the program. It's worth a close look because of what it says about both Eastern and the state writ large:

  1. Eastern's Middle Level Math program is doing pretty good things; 15 students passed the WEST-E out of 15 students tested.
  2. Eastern's Social Studies program has a problem; 28 of 52 students passed the test (53.9%), significantly below the average state passing rate of 82.94%.
  3. There's still people studying how to teach French. No, really!
What I found even more interesting that the stats for the alma mater, though, were the statewide passing rates. For choral music, for example, the passing rate is 100%--63 for 63. In English and Language Arts the passing rate is 96.7%, 557 out of 576--19 failures. The worst subject statewide is Middle Level Science, where barely 50% of the candidates (112 out of 221) passed the certification test.

You could argue that if you want the test to be a filter then it's serving that purpose in Middle Level Science, but certainly not in choral music. On the other hand, if the test is designed to have the kids demonstrate their mastery then we have great choral music programs, but our middle level science programs at the University level are lagging behind.

The deeper question, though, is whether the time and effort put into the WEST-E is really strengthening the teaching profession. I can't say that I've seen it--most of the kids look at it as just one more thing--but perhaps there's evidence to the contrary.

It's great for testing contractors, at least.

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