At least 25 states are preparing to introduce a national exam for teachers that has been modeled after the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT).
Supporters say PACT measures a candidate’s strengths, weaknesses and classroom readiness while critics say there is no evidence of the effectiveness of such tests.
It took less than a minute for Mario Martinez to finish the first six questions of the algebra exam that his professor, Ivan Cheng, had just handed to him. The high school-level test was supposed to be a good example of an exam, so that the graduate students in Cheng’s math methods course at the California State University, Northridge’s school of education would better understand what rigorous high school-level questions look like, and how to write tests for their own lessons.
By the end of the first page, Martinez had already learned an important lesson: “Beware of redundant problems,” he scribbled on the side of his paper before flipping it over to finish the problems on the back.
Martinez has until the fall to hone his skills before he will be sent into a classroom to practice as a student teacher. And he has at least a year before he will have to prove that he can not only teach math, but also create tests and analyze student results. It is a skill that many educators say is a sign of a good teacher, and one so important it was included in a lengthy exit exam that all aspiring teachers must take before they receive a teaching credential from the state.
Aspiring teachers videotape themselves teaching a lesson and write several lengthy reflections. California introduced the performance assessments in 2001 to adhere to a 1998 state law. Teachers must pass them in order to receive certification.
Every teacher preparation program in the state must choose one of three versions for students to take, each of which centers around the teaching and self-reflection activity. The Performance Assessment for California Teachers, or PACT, is the test of choice for Northridge and more than 30 other teacher preparation programs in the state, and many classes, like Cheng’s math methods course, design curriculum around the assessment to ensure students are prepared to pass.
Although it is largely untested and debated amongst educators, the PACT has served as a model for a national exam, known as the edTPA, that at least 25 states are introducing. Developed by 12 California institutions in 2001, the PACT was put on hold when the state suspended the performance assessment requirement in 2003. Three years later, the requirement was reinstated, and in early 2007 the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing approved the assessment.