Credentials for Sale!
by Linda Schrock Taylor
by Linda Schrock Taylor
Since wasting my Saturday morning taking a $70 test supposedly designed to assess prospective teachers, I have been pondering…should I consider my expenses for this farce — hours lost from my writing; expensive gasoline; wear and tear on my car; cost of a nerve pill to prevent me from speaking out my opposing position during the test — be considered employee expenses, or should they be seen as additional taxes? I certainly did not register for the test by choice. I was forced to do so in order to receive a teaching certificate. Government regulations mandate that I spend time and money on dumb test taking in order to get something that other government regulations mandate I must have in order to work. Fee?…expense?…tax? Fee?…expense?…tax?…palm-greasing? Maybe Mandatory Cash Register Filling would be a good description. It is a wonder that no bureaucrat ever thought of such scams before now! Maybe they never took the prospective politicrat exam.
By taking this test for prospective teachers, I will supposedly provide closure on a drama that began almost a year ago when I applied for a teaching certificate in another state. I was sent numerous forms to be forwarded to numerous universities and former employers for completion and notarization. I was also sent fingerprint cards that I took to the Michigan State Police. An officer carefully did my fingerprints while he expressed that he saw no reason for me to have them done again since my Michigan prints-to-teach are in a federal data bank, accessible by any state at the touch of a mouse. We decided that if the new state were to simply use a computer mouse, there would be no justifiable reason to make me pay $49 for "processing fingerprints."
The new state rejected the prints done by the Michigan State patrolman, so I had the prints redone at a sheriff's office in the new state. That set passed muster. I notified the state department of education that the new prints had been done and were in the mail to them. I also asked that they reconsider my request to be certified to teach English.
At this point I am not allowed to teach English in this new state because I only have an undergraduate minor in English and a master's degree in English. In addition, I have only taught English at some level during every year since 1972. It must therefore be clear (as mud) to all readers that I certainly should not be allowed near any children in this state since the regulatory authorities seem to fear that I have evil plans to teach verb tenses, vocabulary, Greek and Latin roots, literature, composition — and all the other lessons that I have been teaching children for my entire career in education. Next step? I need to pass the expensive "English" Praxis II test so Bush will at least consider me "Highly Qualified." There is not even consistency within the bureaucracies! I have always been certified to teach English — in Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan. In Michigan I am considered "Highly Qualified" since I have an MA on top of a BA minor.
I continued to wait, but when no certificate of any kind arrived, I consulted with the personnel rep in the district where I work. She read all the letters and emails that had passed between the department of ed and myself, then advised me to just keep waiting. If I had not heard anything by the end of March, I was to contact the state and inquire, which I ended up having to do. They responded, "You must do everything listed in the September letter." Neither the personnel rep nor myself had noticed any requirement that might have been missed, so I asked the state department to at least give me a little hint. They did: "Prospective Teacher Test."
Yes, I was expected, only 2½ years away from being able to collect my teacher's pension, to take a test over basic skills! How ridiculous. I pointed out that chances were very high that some supervisor, in three states, during the last thirty-three years, would have noticed had I any basic skill deficiencies that would prevent me from becoming a good teacher. I was told again that I must take the basic skills test. I offered to send them the results of my MENSA testing, seeing as how I used to not only be active in that organization, but proctored tests for them, as well. I was told again that I must take the basic skills test.
So I contacted ACT in Iowa City, Iowa, registered for the test and put $70 into their coffers. Clink. Clink.
Teachers and future teachers, mandated to supply certifications, qualifications, and credentials, end up dumping money into those same cash registers as they seek to comply with often silly, often meaningless state and federal requirements. In addition, teachers are now being forced to take the more expensive Praxis subject tests in order to dance to the "Highly Qualified" tune so badly sung by Bush and the Backwards Bumpkins pushing No Child Left Behind. I wonder how ACT in Iowa City and ETS in Princeton, NJ, won the bid to be the only two companies to prepare, give, score, and report tens of thousands; hundreds of thousands of tests at $70+ a pop? I think it must have taken a whole lot of expensive lobbying, but I suspect the pay-off will prove to be worth the original investment. To add even more money to the coffers, the test centers recommend that test takers purchase study guides for each test — guides that sell for a great deal of money!
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I just spent an additional $190 signing up for two of the Praxis II exams to be taken in June. The tests were advertised as costing $75 each, but at the final reckoning, I was charged an additional $40 fee for processing. I bought no study guides and for good reasons.
The new state has certified me to teach the Hearing Impaired in grades K—12. May I suggest that those who understand that teaching, when done properly, skillfully and thoroughly, is a tough job — try your hand at doing all of that and more with deaf children! Logical thinkers easily come to the conclusion that if a teacher can teach deaf children: a mother tongue, speech, auditory training, hearing aid care, lip-reading, and THEN teach all of the academic subjects that hearing children need to learn, such a teacher should be consider highly qualified to teach any elementary child in the country. But logic seems to have no place in certification departments or within the fog of No Child Left Behind legislation. Therefore, I must pass the test on elementary content in order to teach young children. Since I have taught elementary content for my entire career, I should not need a study guide.
In order to teach reading, I need to pass the test for reading specialists. I figure that if I can't pass that reading test — after teaching reading for decades; after researching reading for decades; after attending many excellent training sessions; after writing about teaching reading; with owing a clinic where I remediate reading; and with scores and scores of former and present students who have successfully learned to read because of my teaching skills, then the test is either a farce, or a piece of politically correct propaganda. I have to pay the $95 in order to find out but should not need a study guide. "Ring!" goes the cash register.
However, if the elementary content, and the reading specialist tests are as irrelevant to their stated purpose as was the Prospective Teacher test that I took this morning, then every test taker needs to rethink their plans to prepare for each test. Today's test was not recognizable as a test for teachers. For prospective secretaries in industry, Yes. For prospective teachers, No.
READING: The reading selections were not taken from the kinds of materials, manuals, research, and literature that teachers must read, understand and use. However, the reading choices would have been perfect for entry-level management and secretaries. I like tests that teach at the same time, and would have appreciated reading selections about teaching, education, the assessment of children, current research, and similar topics. I think that a teacher test should at least be teacher-ish.
MATH: ACT could have replaced some of the math problems with ones more like those that teachers are likely to face in the field of education. Better choices would have at least made the test appear to have teachers as a target audience. As was, I again felt as though I was being tested to work in industry rather than education. We were allowed calculators and provided with cheat sheets. I thought that odd, for when I was in school I was expected to learn that provided information and retain it for Life. The use of calculators was optional, and since I felt silly using one for such simple problems, I worked many out by hand, showing all of my work — as I was taught to do in school. I thought the testers would prefer proof that I really knew the process for solving problems that I prospectively might teach. Big mistake! I ran out of time, leaving the last two problems undone. I should have let my fingers do the thinking. I suppose the test writers are anticipating new-new-math classrooms with calculators everywhere; with little-to-no instruction in why a problem is solved as it is; or explanations of how to use a calculator to shorten a process that should already have been learned to automaticity.
WRITING: However, the biggest farce of all was the 'writing' section. Steno/Transcription would have been a better and more honest title; secretaries the most likely candidates for the test. I had anticipated questions on topics like teaching techniques, educational ethics, and instructional plans. I looked forward to actually using my writing skills and my knowledge base. Instead — I found myself expecting prospective bosses to come sit in the empty chairs that separated test takers. Considering the writing assignments, I thought we should be provided with opportunities to sit on a boss' lap, sharp pencil and greenish spiral notebook in hand, ready to take dictation. It would have been perfect — just like in old movies on AMC!
At last the agonizing hours had passed and I was happy to escape that setting. It was such a relief to meet an intelligent, sane friend for lunch as we planned prospective gatherings around logical, stimulating topics.
Thankfully, the nerve pill had held throughout the tests, and I never did shout out, "Calgon! Take me away!" (I thought about doing it, though.)
May 16, 2005
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is an educational consultant, homeschooling mom, and public school special ed teacher. She is available for presentations, inservices, and workshops.
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