Tennessee

Learning from institutional pass rates on elementary content teacher licensure tests

Flagship analysis — July 2021

Overview

The nation needs a strong, diverse teacher workforce to live up to its promise of equal opportunity for all.

A diverse teacher workforce benefits all students, particularly students of color. At the same time, students need teachers who know content. Both qualities are essential for a strong teacher workforce. Both are achievable.

Pass rate data illuminates the challenges that must be overcome to achieve a strong, diverse teacher workforce.

Currently, policymakers, state education agencies, and teacher prep programs have little insight into when aspiring teachers leave the path into the classroom, largely due to missing or inaccurate data. This makes it hard to identify when and why aspiring teachers exit the pipeline and where to focus efforts and resources to support them.

Here NCTQ shares new data, never before published, on a pivotal point in the pipeline for elementary teachers: when aspiring teachers take licensure tests, one of the final steps before earning a teaching license. Pass rates, or the rate at which teacher candidates pass their licensing tests, serve as a compass, pointing toward strengths and opportunities in preparing teacher candidates.

With this information, states and programs now have the opportunity to look at the data from multiple perspectives. Each lens conveys important insights on the quality of institutions’ preparation, their level of encouragement and support for retaking a failed test, persistence on the part of test takers, as well as commitment and innovation to overcome educational inequities and inadequate K-12 preparation.

NCTQ is making each state’s data available for download to encourage additional analysis, urging states and institutions to consider stronger data systems that capture this data on an ongoing basis.

The Problem

Why do licensure tests matter?

There’s little disagreement among teachers, parents, teacher educators, and state officials that teachers need to know the content they will teach.

Teachers cannot teach what they do not know. Elementary teachers should demonstrate that they know core content before they start teaching, according to 95% of state education agency leaders, 84% of prep program leaders, and 98% of teachers.

Licensure tests are the most common way to measure an elementary teacher’s content knowledge. When well designed, they are:

  • Comparable
  • Reliable
  • Scaleable
  • Comprehensive
  • Cost Effective

While more could always be done to remove bias from the test instrument itself and the test experience, licensure tests also undergo a rigorous bias review process.

And where states have done the research, almost all studies find evidence that they predict future teacher effectiveness.

Currently, the public learns little about the performance of Tennessee's prep programs from the pass rate data collected by the federal government.

All states already report pass rate data through the Title II requirement of the Higher Education Act. However, this data does not include key information such as:

  • First-time pass rates
  • Number of attempts to pass the test
  • Pass rates broken out by race/ethnicity of test takers
  • Proportion of test takers who pass all sections of the test
  • Proportion of test takers who walk away after failing their first attempt

Analysis for Tennessee

Exploring pass rate data through many different lenses helps to identify successful institutions who get the most teacher candidates across the finish line.

Equipped with the data included here, state and teacher prep program leaders can determine what outcomes they value with regard to building a strong, diverse, knowledgeable teacher workforce, and can evaluate the data through the lens of not just one but multiple values.

The following examples illustrate different approaches to analyzing pass rate data and how these approaches can help identify institutions with strong preparation programs that may offer guidance for their peers.

Best-Attempt Pass Rates

Teacher candidates have multiple opportunities to pass their test. To explore where most test takers are passing, regardless of the number of attempts, examine institutions’ best attempt pass rates.

Consider these questions when exploring the data

Best-attempt pass rates

Some questions can be answered based on data presented here, while others invite further exploration.

  1. How much variation is there between institutions’ pass rates?
  2. Where do test takers struggle to pass even after their best attempt?
  3. What are the stand-out institutions doing to support their candidates?

The average best-attempt pass rate in Tennessee is 97% on one test and 84% on another, with significant variation among institutions.

One way some states report the data is ‘best-attempt’ pass rates—the number of test takers who pass regardless of the number of attempts. When reported for all test takers, this gives an accurate but limited picture.

Examining these pass rates at the institution level illustrates which institutions help test takers across the licensure test finish line.

While this data is informative, it obscures the burden on candidates from having to take a test multiple times before passing, perhaps because they did not receive adequate preparation.

Best-attempt pass rates by institution on the 5017 test

Best-attempt pass rates by institution on the 5018 test

Notes

On the 5017 test, Fisk University and Rhodes College had too few test takers to report pass rates; Fisk University also had too few test takers to report pass rates on the 5018 test.

First-Attempt Pass Rates

As having to take the test multiple times costs candidates additional money and delays in being able to get a teaching job, first-attempt pass rates offer an important perspective on the data.

Consider these questions when exploring the data

First-attempt pass rates

Some questions can be answered based on data presented here, while others invite further exploration.

  1. How much variation is there between the institutions with the highest and lowest first-time pass rate?
  2. At institutions where test takers struggle, what could they do to foster greater success?
  3. What are the stand-out institutions doing to support their candidates?

On the 5018 test in Tennessee, only 67% of test takers pass on their first attempt, but this average masks significant variation among institutions.

This measure of how many test takers pass on their first attempt offers further insight into whether candidates have to expend time and money on multiple retakes, and whether programs offer content preparation that aligns with the state’s expectations.

For states and preparation programs, the first-attempt pass rate can identify potential gaps in preparation and point toward the need for better support for candidates, such as course requirements more aligned with the needs of elementary teachers.

First-attempt pass rates on the 5017 test

First-attempt pass rates on the 5018 test

Notes

On the 5017 test, Fisk University and Rhodes College had too few test takers to report pass rates. Fisk University also had too few test takers to report pass rates on the 5018 test.

Walk-Away Rates

To identify where aspiring teachers get lost in the pipeline, examine the walk-away rate—the proportion of test takers who fail on their first attempt and do not retake the test.

Consider these questions when exploring the data

Walk-away rates

Some questions can be answered based on data presented here, while others invite further exploration.

  1. How many aspiring teachers does my state lose each year after they fail their licensure test?
  2. How are institutions with lower “walk-away rates” supporting their candidates?
  3. Who stops attempting the test after failing the first time? How can those test takers be better supported?

Around a quarter of Tennessee test takers who fail their content knowledge test on the first attempt do not try again. This rate varies among institutions from 0% to 100%.

5017 test

All test takers
Test takers of color

5018 test

All test takers
Test takers of color

In the aggregate, low first-attempt pass rates may point to a misalignment between the preparation candidates receive and the state’s expectations for future elementary teachers.

On an individual level, failing these tests can be demoralizing, causing delays in job searches and unforeseen expenses to study for and retake the test.

Because retake numbers are not available on composite or assessment-level scores, when a state requires a test with multiple subtests, this analysis uses the subtest with the lowest pass rate. Test takers must pass each subtest in order to pass the overall test (though not necessarily in the same sitting), so using the lowest-scoring subtest best illustrates the challenges test takers face.

Notes

Download the full state data spreadsheet to see walk-away rates for each institution.

The walk-away rates above are for all test takers in the state, including those at institutions that do not house teacher prep programs. (All test takers were included because state-level data on number of attempts was not available on only those institutions housing prep programs, without losing data on over 200 test takers due to small N size.) When limited to institutions that house teacher prep programs (after removing institutions with fewer than 5 test takers), walk-away rates are:

5017 test: 25% walk-away rate for all test takers; 35% walk-away rate for test takers of color

5018 test: 20% walk-away rate for all test takers; 36% walk-away rate for test takers of color

Three or More Attempts

To explore where test takers are more likely to succeed with the least amount of time and money spent on test-taking, examine retake rates.

Consider these questions when exploring the data

Three or more attempts

Some questions can be answered based on data presented here, while others invite further exploration.

  1. What supports do test takers need if they’re retaking the test multiple times?
  2. What can institutions do to help test takers succeed with fewer retakes?
  3. Pass rate data for this subtest for each institution can be downloaded at the link below. Among institutions with similar retake rates, which have higher or lower pass rates?

16% of test takers in Tennessee take the 5018 test three or more times, while only 2% take the 5017 three or more times.

High percentages of test takers who take the test three or more times may indicate systemic problems such as low admissions standards, inadequate support, or too little attention to the content coursework candidates take.

Percent attempting the state’s 5017 test 3 or more times

Percent attempting the state’s 5018 test 3 or more times

Notes

On the 5017 test, Fisk University and Rhodes College had too few test takers to report number of attempts; Fisk University also had too few test takers to report number of attempts on the 5018 test.

Pass Rates by Admissions Selectivity

To identify and scale practices from institutions that successfully support all groups of test takers, sort pass rate data by categories such as admissions selectivity.

Consider these questions when exploring the data

Pass rates by admissions selectivity

Some questions can be answered based on data presented here, while others invite further exploration.

  1. How much variation is there between institutions’ pass rates within the same band of selectivity?
  2. At which less selective institutions do test takers earn higher pass rates? 
  3. What are the stand-out institutions doing to support their candidates?

Tennessee has several institutions with lower levels of selectivity and high pass rates across both tests.

Organizing pass rate data by the admissions selectivity of the program or institution helps to identify places that are less selective and also achieve higher pass rates.

Institutions’ first-attempt pass rates on the 5017 test, by selectivity

Institutions’ first-attempt pass rates on the 5018 test, by selectivity

Notes

Graphs updated 9/20/21.

On the 5017 test, Fisk University and Rhodes College had too few test takers to report pass rates. Fisk University also had too few test takers to report pass rates on the 5018 test.

Admissions selectivity for traditional institutions is measured using their undergraduate elementary program ratings from the 2021 Teacher Prep Review. In the absence of a rating, an equivalent score (identified in the graph hover-over by an asterisk) was determined using institutional median SAT/ACT scores or Barron’s selectivity ratings. Selectivity for alternative certification programs was determined using non-traditional program ratings from the 2021 Teacher Prep Review. See more here: www.nctq.org/review/standard/Admissions#scoringRubric. ‘Very selective’ represents an A on the Teacher Prep Review Admissions standard or its scoring equivalent, ‘Selective’ a B, ‘Moderately selective’ a C, ‘Less selective’ a D, and ‘Not selective’ an F. Institutions with a C, D, or F were classified as having “lower admissions selectivity.”

Based on input from the American Association of Community Colleges, all community colleges are identified as “Not selective.”

Pass Rates by Socioeconomic Factors

To identify and scale practices from institutions that successfully support all groups of test takers, sort pass rate data by categories such as the proportion of Pell grant recipients at the institution.

Consider these questions when exploring the data

Pass rates by socioeconomic factors

Some questions can be answered based on data presented here, while others invite further exploration.

  1. How much variation is there between institutions’ pass rates with higher or lower proportions of Pell grant recipients?
  2. What are the stand-out institutions doing to support their test takers?
  3. What additional supports may be valuable for institutions with more Pell grant recipients?

Tennessee has several institutions with a high proportion of Pell grant recipients and high pass rates across both tests.

Institutions’ first-attempt pass rates on the 5017 test, by percent of Pell grant recipients

Institutions’ first-attempt pass rates on the 5018 test, by percent of Pell grant recipients

Notes

Proportion of Pell grant recipients refers to all undergraduate students at the institution, and not specifically to test takers.

On the 5017 test, Fisk University and Rhodes College had too few test takers to report pass rates. Fisk University also had too few test takers to report pass rates on the 5018 test.

Pass Rates for Test Takers of Color

To identify institutions supporting teachers of color in entering the workforce, examine pass rate data for test takers of color.

Consider these questions when exploring the data

Pass rates for test takers of color

Some questions can be answered based on data presented here, while others invite further exploration.

  1. Which institutions have higher pass rates for test takers of color? 
  2. Pass rates for all test takers, and for white test takers, can be downloaded at the link below. Which institutions have closed the gap in pass rates for test takers of color and white test takers?
  3. At which institutions could greater supports for test takers of color help to bring more teachers of color into the workforce?

Tennessee’s institutions vary widely in first-attempt and best-attempt pass rates for test takers of color.

First-attempt and best-attempt pass rates on the 5017 test for test takers of color

First-attempt and best-attempt pass rates on the 5018 test for test takers of color

Notes

Aquinas College, Bryan College, Carson-Newman University, Cumberland University, East Tennessee State University, Fisk University, Johnson University, King University, Lincoln Memorial University, Martin Methodist College, Maryville College, Milligan College, Rhodes College, Tennessee Wesleyan University, Tusculum University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Welch College had too few test takers of color to report pass rates on the 5017 test.

Aquinas College, Belmont University, Bryan College, Carson-Newman University, Cumberland University, Fisk University, Johnson University, King University, Martin Methodist College, Maryville College, Milligan College, Rhodes College, Tennessee Wesleyan University, and Welch College had too few test takers of color to report pass rates on the 5018 test.

Lincoln  Memorial University and South College had enough test takers of color to report best attempt pass rates on the 5018 test but not first attempt pass rates (likely because some test takers who passed in the data window had originally taken the test prior to the data window).

Standout Institutions

When viewed through these different lenses, some institutions stand out for supporting their test takers in passing licensing tests.

Carson-Newman University

  • The institution has more Pell grant recipients (41%) than average (35%) and exceeds the state’s first-attempt average pass rate.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test is 77%, compared with 67% across the state.

East Tennessee State University

  • The institution has more Pell grant recipients (41%) than average (35%) and exceeds the state’s first-attempt average pass rate.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test is 75%, compared with 67% across the state.

King University

  • The institution is less selective and exceeds the state’s average first-attempt pass rate.
  • The institution also has more Pell grant recipients (47%) than average (35%) and exceeds the state’s first-attempt average pass rate.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test is 72%, compared with 67% across the state.

Martin Methodist College

  • The institution is less selective and exceeds the state’s average first-attempt pass rate.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (5017) test is 100%, compared with 93% across the state.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test is 86%, compared with 67% across the state.

Middle Tennessee State University

  • The institution has more Pell grant recipients (41%) than average (35%) and exceeds the state’s first-attempt average pass rate.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (5017) test is 95%, compared with 93% across the state.

South College

  • The institution has more Pell grant recipients (52%) than average (35%) and exceeds the state’s first-attempt average pass rate.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate for all test takers on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test is 71%, compared with 67% across the state.

Tusculum University

  • The institution is moderately selective and exceeds the state’s average first-attempt pass rate.
  • The institution also has more Pell grant recipients (54%) than average (35%) and exceeds the state’s first-attempt average pass rate.
  • The institution’s average first-attempt pass rate for all test takers on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test is 68%, compared with 67% across the state.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

  • First-attempt pass rates for test takers of color at this institution exceeds the state’s average first-time pass rate.
  • The average first-attempt pass rate for test takers of color at this institution on the Praxis II Elementary Education: Content Knowledge (5018) test is 84%, compared with 67% across the state.

Recommendations

Building a path together

State education agencies, teacher prep programs, testing companies, and school districts together, should create or verify alignment between what’s taught in elementary classrooms, what’s expected in teacher prep coursework, and what’s assessed on licensure tests.

The following recommendations build upon this foundation of aligned content.

Teacher prep programs:

  1. Look to coursework, not just test prep strategies, to best prepare candidates in the content they need to teach elementary grades.
  2. Review and act on pass rate data to monitor program effectiveness and to inform improvements.
  3. Use diagnostic testing to identify candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

States:

  1. Use a valid and reliable elementary education licensure test that separately measures knowledge of language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.
  2. Set the minimum score needed to pass the licensure test at the score that has been recommended by the standard setting process.
  3. Improve access to and use of assessment data.
  4. Make sure that the state’s needs are reflected in agreements made with licensure test publishers.

Testing Companies

  1. Standard operating procedure should be to provide first-attempt and best-attempt pass rate data and data on the number of attempts for all test takers at the institution level to state education agencies and preparation programs.
  2. Strengthen data collection to provide more accurate program-level data.
  3. Work with the education field to explore concerns around bias in testing.

This data is a powerful tool for change. Low pass rates should not be hidden, but rather brought to light; facing these challenges is how we build a stronger, more diverse teacher workforce for our students.

While prep programs did not create the systemic educational inequities that contribute to struggles in passing licensure content exams, they – with support from their institutions, state education agencies, and testing companies – are in a prime position to take action to close these gaps. It is NOT the demographic makeup of the student population, but the commitment of the institution to adequately prepare candidates for licensure exams and more importantly, for the classroom, that makes all the difference. With better data, states and programs can better direct their resources to support candidates in achieving success.

Download the national report for the full set of recommendations

What’s next?

Improvement is possible

Students need teachers who enter the classroom already knowing core content. Licensure tests act as a guardrail to make sure that teachers have essential knowledge from their first day on the job. Data from licensure tests offer a powerful tool to spotlight systemic inequities in content knowledge and to help identify institutions that are successfully preparing candidates for the classroom and those that need extra support.

Download Tennessee data