The Biggest Barrier to Producing High-Quality Early Childhood Teachers…It’s Not What You Think


When asked why we do not have enough preschool teachers, most people would immediately say its because the pay is too low. Others would say because the work is not taken seriously i.e. “glorified babysitting”, the field is not attractive to many young people. And others would say that given the high cost of college, it is not cost-effective to earn a degree in early childhood education.  All these assertions are probably true, but there is another barrier that most people do not recognize as preventing young women (and men) from becoming early childhood teachers.

Those pursuing an undergraduate degree in early childhood education must earn 120-credits in a variety of general education and major courses, complete one semester or more of full-time student teaching, and pass national licensure exams.  I believe most of this is necessary to ensure that young children are taught by the most capable adults who can create an enriching environment that supports their overall development. However, the insistence that students pass two licensure exams, is the biggest barrier for many of the students I work with now and in the past, to become early childhood teachers.

Educational Testing Service (ETS) is the creator of the Praxis tests that 45 states plus the District of Columbia require for individuals to obtain a teaching license. Praxis Core is a reading, writing, and math test that prospective teachers must take and achieve the passing score set by the state. Praxis II is the subject assessment that students take based on their area of practice, i.e. early childhood, elementary, secondary subjects, etc. Although these tests may seem harmless enough the Praxis Core is nothing more than a barrier to recruiting diverse early childhood teachers.

First, why do students who take math, English, and writing in college have to take another standardized test to obtain a teaching license? The grades they earn in college-level math and writing courses should suffice, and thus this test is not only a waste of time, but at the cost of $150 it is also an expensive burden for most of my students.  If we believe that the assessment of teachers should be what guides learning and instruction in the K-12 classroom, then surely the assessment of college professors should be more than sufficient to assist prospective teachers in earning their license. If the student has been out of college for more than five years or did not earn very good grades in those classes, perhaps I could recognize the need for an additional test to measure general skills.  But for most students who seek to become a teacher as an undergraduate, this test is a waste of time, money, and energy.

Second, why do states need to set an arbitrary cut off score? I lost count of how many students missed the cutoff score by 1-point and had to pay to take the test again. Given the variety in passing scores* set by the states, how can 1-point make a difference? Instead of states setting a required passing score, they could create a range of scores accepted that allows for more flexibility than a randomly selected cut-off score.  Given that this is a pre-licensure exam, a range of scores would be more aligned with other standardized exams such as the SAT or GRE.  Getting rid of the Praxis Core would be best, but if states are unwilling to take that step they could at least remove the artificial cut-off score barrier.

Lastly, if teacher education preparation programs can demonstrate that the Praxis Core is a barrier to students of color gaining entrance into their licensure programs, shouldn’t the state reconsider requiring this test? We know that the current teaching force is overwhelmingly white and female while the student population is increasingly brown and black. However, we continue to keep in place barriers that prevent people of color from becoming teachers.  Given all the requirements that prospective teachers in a traditional teacher preparation program face, the Praxis Core provides no real value in making sure these students are ready to be high-quality teachers. Many students struggle with standardized tests for a variety of reasons, not because they lack the requisite skill or knowledge. If we are serious about increasing the number of diverse teachers in the profession, then we must get serious about removing those barriers that serve no purpose except to enrich the companies that produce them.

Click here to access of chart of passing scores.

*Currently there is not much variation in the Praxis Core tests by the states, but there used to be, and there is variation in the passing scores set for the other tests.