It’s time for some more Georgia education politics! A local news station recently aired a “whistle-blowing” piece on the content knowledge (or really, lack of content knowledge) of Georgia public school teachers. In order to become a Georgia public school teacher, candidates must pass an exam called the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE). There are two “parts” of the GACE future teachers must pass. The first is the “Basic Skills” section; that is a four-hour, multiple-choice-heavy test including questions on “general knowledge” and the classic 3R’s. The second part is a subject-specific content assessment. Here, GACE begins to act almost like the AP. There are various subjects in which teachers can be tested, including both traditional school topics (like “Middle School Math,” or “Reading,” or “Latin”) as well as more pedagogical topics (like “School Counseling” and “Early Childhood Education”). Regardless, each section is graded on a 100-300 point scale, with a 220 being a “pass.” The number and types of subject-specific portions a teacher must pass before entering the classroom varies from county to county.
So, now here comes the news-worthy piece of information: over 12000 teachers across the state are currently teaching AND have failed AT LEAST ONE part of the GACE. Over 700 current-teachers failed at least one part of the GACE at least FIVE times. The record number of fails for a current-teacher was found to be 18–making her the Susan Lucci of education.
Now, logically, this really is inexcusable. Let’s suppose that we’re talking about a future-teacher who is in, or has been in, an education program at a college.
- Consider the “basic-skills” part of the GACE. It does include some content questions, which we will discuss in the next point. As for the pedagogical questions: if someone who is about to have or who already has a degree in education cannot answer “basic” pedagogical multiple-choice questions, then we have uncovered a huge problem in the university programs. If you have a degree in education, you should be able to answer those questions. Easily.
- Now let’s take the content-specific part of the GACE. Failing that would mean a teacher first and foremost does not know the subject material she is potentially going to be teaching. And note we’re not talking about pedagogical questions anymore–we are strictly talking about CONTENT. But there’s an even more basic way to interpret this: if the topic is, say, “Middle School Mathematics,” or “Elementary School Language Arts,” and someone who has at least a high-school diploma (and in most cases, a college degree) cannot pass a test on the material then we have bigger problems than we realize. Presumably if you’ve passed middle school, then you can pass a multiple-choice test in middle school math; if you’ve passed elementary school, then you can pass a multiple-choice test in elementary school language arts. This is not rocket surgery.
But, wait! Not every teacher has a degree in education! Still, to be a teacher in the great state of Georgia, one must have a college degree (unless one wishes to home-school). So maybe these teachers who are failing the GACE are simply those who do not have a degree in education! So now what? In some ways our argument becomes more simplified, as #2 above still holds. So:
- Let’s look at the “basic skills” test. That is the only portion of the exam with pedagogical-type questions, and hence the only portion of the exam a high-school graduate may not have seen. And it seems reasonable that this would be a section in which those without education degrees would struggle. Still, this is why we invented practice exams and test booklets. If you know you have to pass this test to teach, and if you’re serious about wanting to teach, then you will find a way to learn the damn material.
But, maybe we’re being completely unreasonable here. Perhaps the GACE is really a non-trivial exam. How difficult is the test? Well, on-tape we have superintendents and county board of education members alike opining that the exam is “easy.” Another education official said that the GACE was never intended to be the “highest of academic hurdles”; instead, if was to serve merely as a “bare minimum” measure. And, honestly, this test is a joke.
Below are some examples taken from GACE’s own practice exam page. The hope is to show the variety of questions (personally, I believe the most difficult questions ARE those related to education; however, they are still do-able). Also note for the mathematics sections, calculators ARE allowed. Last, for those who are curious or unsure, italicized and underlined are the correct answers:
- “(9)The critical spirit appeared in almost every form; in weekly and monthly magazines, in essays and pamphlets, in editorials and news stories, and in novels like Churchill’s Coniston and Sinclair’s The Jungle.“What change would improve the grammar of sentence (9)?
- changing the semicolon into a colon
- capitalizing Spirit
- reversing the order of almost every
- removing the and before in novels
- Janice bought a pair of shoes on sale for $40. If the price of the shoes had been reduced by 20%, what was the original price?
GACE Early Childhood Education
- Which of the following activities is appropriate for a preschool?
- memorizing poems
- writing essays
- reading stories independently
- learning letter shapes
- Which of the following terms is used to describe educational interventions that require child participation and imitate everyday behaviors?
- Which of the following sentences is an example of an understatement?
- Ask me if I really care!
- Who knew that grass stains could come out of those trousers?
- World War II created some discomfort for the Roosevelt administration.
- Henry ate a ton of French fries.
- Which of these metrical feet consists of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one?
- If x is a multiple of 12 but not a multiple of 9, which of the following expressions CANNOT be an integer?
Middle School Mathematics
- Select the answer in which the fractions are arranged from least to greatest
- 3/8, 1/3, 4/7, 2/5
- 1/3, 3/8, 2/5, 4/7
- 3/8, 4/7, 1/3, 2/5
- 1/3, 2/5, 3/8, 4/7
Wow. So that was frightening, right? Where do we go from here? Here are some suggestions:
- Fire the flunkies. Seems logical, right? Well, logical is not equivalent to possible. There are a few hurdles in accomplishing this task.
- The teachers who flunked the exam may already have tenure. I’m guessing, for example, that Ms. Lucci has tenure. There is no other possible way she could have taken the test 18 times and be employed. If the teacher has tenure, though, you’re screwed. It is almost impossible to fire a teacher once she has “earned” tenure–see a previous blogpost for more info on tenure.
- Just a guess: the counties and school districts that have hired teachers who flunked the GACE are the counties and school districts who are the most “desperate” for teachers. So, taking away the teachers they do have is only going to make their classrooms more crowded and their superintendents more stressed. Frankly, I would prefer having my child in a class of 50 taught by a competent professional than in a class of 25 taught by someone who could not even answer the above questions, but that may just be me. If you’re still so desperate as a county or school or district, demote the flunkies to teachers aides. Put them in charge of organizing handouts; don’t put them in charge of the actual classroom.
- Prevent this from happening again by examining the universities. I’m going to take a WILD stab in the dark and guess that, in Georgia, the vast majority of teachers earn some kind of teaching degree from a select list of colleges and universities (all of which, I will guess, are IN GEORGIA). Surely the next thing the whistle-blowers will uncover is how off-the-mark these education programs are. Many colleges do already have in-place sequences of content courses for future teachers; these courses are key to solving this issue. These courses need more attention and care; they need more structure, more content, and the expectations of the students in those classes need to be held to the highest possible level. We need to quit screwing around with this. We have got to find a way to make sure the people teaching our children are competent.