States’ Efforts to Streamline Teacher Certification: Are They Lowering Standards or Increasing Access?

Everett Anderson’s aspiration was to become a teacher, a goal he pursued diligently. Securing a full scholarship to college and gaining access to a leadership program aimed at attracting and retaining Black male teachers validated his ambition.

However, a significant obstacle soon emerged.

While excelling in his academic pursuits at Jackson State University, Anderson faced a challenge passing a licensure test essential for admission to his school’s teacher preparation program in Mississippi.

Despite triumphing in the reading and writing components of the Praxis Core, he repeatedly stumbled over the math section. Despite accumulating education course credits, inching closer to his degree, Anderson struggled to attain success in the math exam, attempting it a discouraging 14 times by the time he reached his senior year.

Without a passing score, Anderson was barred from engaging in the mandatory student teaching experience and consequently unable to complete his degree, despite his intention to teach elementary school, where geometry knowledge would be unnecessary.

This was the scenario in 2017.

“It started to weigh heavily on me emotionally. I felt defeated,” Anderson reflects nearly seven years later. “I made the decision that I couldn’t subject myself to that.” Subsequently, he let go of his teaching dream, switched his major to social work, and graduated a year later.

Anderson’s situation mirrors that of others mentored by education leaders in various colleges and universities, facing similar challenges with the Praxis Core or other “basic skills tests” long mandated for entry into teacher preparation programs.

After relinquishing his dreams of becoming a teacher, Everett Anderson graduated from Jackson State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in social work.

Several states have initiated efforts to address this issue. Louisiana, for instance, established a task force to investigate the decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs. A 2022 report by this task force revealed that approximately 1,000 aspiring educators annually couldn’t enter a preparation program due to Praxis Core failures.

Amid declining interest in the teaching profession, there are growing concerns about turning away potentially adept individuals from the field before they’ve had the opportunity to undergo the training necessary for classroom success.

These challenges alongside issues of inequities in assessments and the widening demographic gap between teachers and students have prompted several states to reevaluate their strategies.

In 2015, 25 states demanded teacher candidates to pass a basic skills test for program admission. By 2021, this number had shrunk to 15. As of now, only 11 states retain this requirement, mainly situated in red southeastern U.S. states according to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Some of these states permit candidates to fulfill the requirement by achieving a minimum score on the ACT, SAT, or GRE.

Many education leaders commend this shift, asserting that it provides more inclusive opportunities for students of color, first-generation students, and those from low-income households to pursue teaching careers while eliminating a barrier deemed largely unnecessary.

Paula Calderon, dean of the Southeastern Louisiana University College of Education, criticizes the basic skills test as an overpriced, sophisticated ACT/SAT exam, costing $150 for the full Praxis Core.

Paula Calderon, dean of the Southeastern Louisiana University College of Education.

According to Calderon and Weadé James, vice president of organizational advancement at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), assessments like the Praxis Core are redundant. James questions the necessity for candidates applying to teacher preparation programs to meet additional requirements like basic skills tests, especially when university admission criteria have already been met. A 2021 AACTE analysis on these assessments highlights their significant and enduring impact on teachers of color over decades.

However, not everyone supports eliminating these test requirements. Critics argue that doing so may lower the standards for teaching, potentially affecting the profession’s integrity and student outcomes.

Heather Peske, NCTQ president, cautions against the removal of standards without substituting them with another meaningful measure of academic aptitude, emphasizing that while states may be easing entry into teaching, the job itself remains challenging.

Classroom performance over exam scores

Following recommendations from its teaching task force, Louisiana’s legislature discarded the state’s Praxis Core requirement in summer 2022. Debbie Thomas, dean of the Grambling State University College of Education, asserts that this change did not dilute the teaching standards in Louisiana. Candidates still need to pass exit exams evaluating their content knowledge and meet specific GPA requirements to graduate.

Thomas and Calderon emphasize that this shift reinstates the accountability where it belongs—on individual institutions tasked with preparing future teachers.

According to Calderon, this transformation was perceived as a lowering of standards but actually served to emphasize and empower university faculty to evaluate and guide their students appropriately.

“We can address deficiencies through professional dispositions, academic advising, and classroom performance without the need for standardized exams,” Calderon highlights.

Debbie Thomas, dean of the Grambling State University College of Education.

In the first admissions cycle post the removal of the requirement, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Louisiana observed a 33 percent increase in enrollment.

Thomas from Grambling State, an HBCU, remarks on the immediate impact of this change.

Thomas adds that without the need for Praxis Core test prep, staff can focus on tailored resources for students’ respective fields, enhancing their progress towards graduation. “We utilized this change to improve academic support, ensuring student success,” she explains.

The rise in enrollment, especially among candidates of color, holds significance for student diversity. Research indicates that learner outcomes, including test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment, improve when students have at least one K-12 teacher matching their racial identity.

Given that over half of the student population is non-white today, diversifying the education sector becomes imperative, as highlighted by Thomas.

Many aspiring educators at Grambling State, who were previously deterred by these tests, expressed interest in serving underserved communities where teacher shortages are acute.

“We don’t want to exclude potential educators. If a barrier exists solely for the sake of creating a barrier or gatekeeping, we want to remove it,” Thomas asserts.

Despite differing views, Peske believes that states should maintain robust standards for prospective teachers’ academic proficiency to ensure they are competent in the classroom.

While open to optional testing, she emphasizes the necessity for alternate assessment measures to evaluate aspiring educators’ academic capabilities effectively.

She expresses concerns that the trend of abandoning basic skills test requirements may stem from anxieties over escalating teacher shortages.

Tom Philion, dean of the Northeastern Illinois University College of Education.

Tom Philion, from the Northeastern Illinois University College of Education, acknowledges the chaotic educational landscape due to COVID-related licensing waivers and evolving standards. Illinois abolished its basic skills test requirement in 2019 and suspended its educator performance assessment, the edTPA, through August 2025 for a comprehensive evaluation.

“There’s more scrutiny in all facets of teacher preparation,” Philion notes. “While we seek more teachers and diversity, it comes with concerns about candidates’ core skills and knowledge—an inevitable trade-off.”

Debates continue on whether performance on these tests correlates with classroom effectiveness. Advocates for scrapping basic skills tests cite studies showing minimal correlation, while opponents refer to research displaying a positive relationship. Conflicting interpretations of the same studies characterize this ongoing argument.

Dan Goldhaber, the director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, acknowledges the nuanced nature of teacher certification and effectiveness studies. The predictability of these tests on future teacher performance varies depending on factors like grade level and subject. Typically, a stronger correlation is observed in older grades and technical subjects like biology.

However, Goldhaber concedes the imperfections of tests. Setting standards too low risks unprepared candidates in classrooms, while extremely high standards deny potentially effective teachers a chance to teach.

“Determining these thresholds is somewhat subjective,” he remarks.

Goldhaber suggests a shift towards submitting scores as supplemental information for teacher programs, akin to how colleges consider ACT and SAT scores for admission.

Everett Anderson is an adjunct professor at a community college. He relinquished his dream of becoming a elementary school teacher and changed his major to social work after struggling with the math portion of a licensure test.

Anderson’s persistence eventually paid off. Defending his dissertation in December, he now holds a doctorate in higher education administration.

Today, Anderson fulfills his teaching ambitions as an adjunct professor at a community college, aspiring to secure a full-time professorship and eventually tenure.

Mississippi now offers multiple paths for prospective teachers to demonstrate their academic capabilities. Reflecting on his journey, Anderson harbors no regrets or bitterness. He views his experience positively, looking forward to seeing other aspiring educators benefit similarly.

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