North Carolina elementary school teachers struggle to pass test to receive license

RALEIGH, N.C. — What is the approximate mean distance from Neptune to the sun in astronomical units?

That’s one of the questions many elementary school teachers in North Carolina are now being asked before they can get their licenses.

In a presentation to the State Board of Education this month, experts revealed hundreds of teachers across the state are failing the test they must pass to teach in North Carolina, and it’s getting worse each year.

The board changed the required test for elementary teachers with zero to two years of experience in 2014.

“The math level on this particular test far outreaches the training that an elementary school teacher would have been given at college or a university and far exceeds what we will ever be required to teach in a K-5 classroom,” Krista Ricks, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools elementary school teacher, said.

Ricks has 19 years of teaching experience, so she doesn’t have to take the test. Several of her colleagues, though, do, and they’ve failed.

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The data presented at the State Board of Education meeting this month shows about 36 percent of teachers failed the math portion of the test in 2016 and 2017.

Teachers can take the test as many times as they’d like to try to pass, but they must pay for themselves. The mathematics subtest is $94 to take.

Ricks said many of the teachers have already proven themselves in the classroom.

"They go through observations from administration, in fact, new teachers have the most observations,” Ricks said. ”They’re getting stellar remarks, and their children are showing amounts of growth.”

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It comes as many districts across the state struggle to fill teaching positions.

“We're already almost at a crisis situation to fill classrooms with qualified teachers, and this doesn’t help,” Ricks said. “In the end, the kids lose. Our children lose."

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The board is making changes to address the issue. Teachers rated effective by their employer can continue teaching for a year, and a state committee is looking at alternatives to the test.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction said the board and superintendent are working toward a long-term solution by the end of the year.

Pearson, the maker of the test, sent Channel 9 the below statement:

"Pearson supports the efforts of the North Carolina Board of Education (BOE) to have high-quality, valid educator licensure assessments. We have been working with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and North Carolina educators to implement the exams on behalf of the State to help North Carolina achieve its education goals. North Carolina teachers are deeply involved throughout the process of validating educator licensure assessments. Test scores required for passing are determined by the State and are informed by recommendations from North Carolina educators resulting from standard setting activities."

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