Monday, August 3, 2009

ABCTE - subject matter AND pedagogy

A guest post by ABCTE's Director of Public Relations, Mike Holden:

One of the common misconceptions about the ABCTE program is that our exams focus only on content expertise. I’ll occasionally see a news story or a comment posted online where people are outraged that someone could become a teacher by only passing “a test” showing they are experts in a particular subject.

It is true that in order to earn ABCTE certification a candidate must pass a test in the subject they’d like to teach (i.e. someone who wants to be certified in math must pass our math exam). These subject-area exams by themselves are difficult and should not be quickly dismissed—no one is going to pass without knowing their content and knowing it well.

But there is a second exam that all candidates must pass and it should not be overlooked. This important component to the program is the Professional Teaching Knowledge (PTK) exam, which tests an ABCTE candidate on knowledge related to working with students. Here’s a short summary from the PTK snapshot that goes over what is included on that exam:

“The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence believes that highly skilled teachers should possess a comprehensive body of knowledge that is research-based and promotes student achievement. The Professional Teaching Knowledge exam is designed to assess a new teacher’s knowledge of teaching-related criteria. Such knowledge is typically obtained in undergraduate preparation in areas such as human development, classroom management, instructional design and delivery techniques, assessment, and other professional preparation. This exam also contains a writing component that will evaluate a candidate’s ability to write to audiences they will most likely address as a teacher: parents, colleagues, and/or school administrators. Candidates will be asked to compose their written response without access to any writing aids such as spelling and grammar tools.”

How difficult is the PTK exam? Take it from ABCTE biology teacher Keria Morton, who was already in the classroom and used our program to get certified and keep her job:

“After teaching for three years, I knew I had the content knowledge and teacher know-how to pass the tests. After all, I passed the Praxis test with no preparation and I did not figure the ABCTE tests could be much harder, despite what they told me. But I missed the cutoff [for the PTK exam] by two points. Boy, was I unprepared for just how difficult these tests were. No random person could just come in and pass these tests. I am not even sure a few months of diligent studying could accomplish it. You have to know your material to meet the challenge the ABCTE program offers to you.”

Or, on the content side of things, here's a video of ABCTE math teacher Wanda Champaign-Martin, who underestimated the ABCTE math exam and found out the hard way that the tests are “very comprehensive.”

Finally, here’s ABCTE English teacher Bridgette Blake, who talks about how the county she was teaching in recommended ABCTE to her and that the administrators “knew that this program would definitely prepare [her] for the classroom.”

ABCTE does issue its teaching certification based on tests, but these exams allow people to place-out of college coursework and they are not easy. As we tell potential ABCTE candidates, the tests are “rigorous and comprehensive.” The average candidate takes 8 to 10 month to complete the program and the exams should not be sold short. We want our teachers to show that they know their subject AND how to teach it. Aiming for anything less wouldn’t be good for anyone.

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