Education

Could you pass this math test? Hundreds of NC teachers have failed it.

After an article about North Carolina teachers failing math test required for licensure got national circulation, math-minded readers wanted to see for themselves how hard the test is.

“Would have been more informative if sample questions were included to see exactly what type of question seems to be problematic. I’d love to know,” a reader wrote.

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The bad news: The exam that has tripped up almost 2,400 beginning elementary school teachers relies heavily on charts, graphs and mathematical notations, which makes it hard to reproduce in a story.

The good: You can go to www.nc.nesinc.com and click “prepare” to view sample questions or even try your hand at a full 2.5-hour, 46-question practice test (the math test, which has proven to be the biggest stumbling block, is under “general curriculum”).

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Question from Pearson’s practice test for North Carolina teacher licensure. Correct answer is C. http://www.nc.nesinc.com

State education officials adopted the licensure exams created by Pearson, a company that provides testing and other educational material, in 2014. Pass rates on the math portion plunged, from around 85 percent on the previous Praxis exam (which comes from the nonprofit Educational Testing Service) to as low as 54.5 percent in 2016-17.

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North Carolina’s Board of Education, which has already given teachers an extra year to pass, heard a report on the licensure exam last week. The Observer’s article, which noted similar problems in other states, was picked up by the online Drudge Report and spurred a report from Newsweek.

Elementary school classroom teachers and K-12 special education teachers must pass exams in math, reading and general knowledge within the first two years after graduation to earn a North Carolina teaching license. They pay $278 to take the whole battery, and $94 each time they have to retake the math portion.

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A question from Pearson’s practice test for the North Carolina licensure exam for elementary and special education teachers. Correct answer is A. http://www.nc.nesinc.com

The first 45 multiple-choice questions cover algebra, geometry, probability and statistics — mostly material that’s taught in eighth grade and high school, said UNC Charlotte School of Education professor Drew Polly. He teaches prospective elementary school teachers how to teach math. He was among a group of experts who reviewed North Carolina’s math exam this spring.

“When you have a college degree it’s not too unrealistic to expect them to know high school math,” Polly said. But he and the other experts concluded that a more meaningful exam would ask teachers to demonstrate that they know how to look at student work and use strategies to help those students succeed. On the current exam, only the final open-answer question does that, Polly said.

That question gives a student’s response to a geometry problem and asks the teacher to correct any errors, explain the problem with the student’s approach and outline an alternative approach that might help the students grasp the concepts.

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Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms
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