Is standardized testing coming to an end for future educators?

By Sophia Turgeon, Contributing Writer.

The Maine Department of Education announced this summer that they are eliminating the Praxis for aspiring teachers.

The Praxis is a series of tests created to fully equip college students for a career in teaching. The Praxis tests consist of multiple tiers of testing in certain subjects. Students were required to get certain scores on each test in order to advance into their practicum semester. On June 16 Governor Janet Mills signed a bill into law that resulted in Praxis exams being eliminated as a requirement for teachers.

Paige Polley, a current junior at the University of Maine at Farmington who took Praxis I is relieved that there is no more testing.

“As a person who doesn’t test well, Praxis did create a lot of stress for me that I feel like was unnecessary because it doesn’t reflect my intelligence and my ability to teach. However, with that being said, I did take my Praxis I at a time, which was $270 and I failed two of them, so I had to retest. And right after my retesting with passing results, I found out we didn’t need to take them anymore. I was upset and annoyed but now I don’t have to worry about Praxis II and wasting more money,” Polley said.

Money is oftentimes a concern for college students who have to spend hundreds of dollars on these tests.

Emma Williams, also a junior at UMF has a different way of thinking about Praxis exams being eliminated. Williams completed Praxis I and passed on her first attempt. She also had completed two portions of the Praxis II exams before the exam requirements were removed. With these tests being removed, students are worrying that they may not be as equipped for educating as some other teachers may be.

“I like it but it also concerns me. I’m happy I don’t have that pressure anymore, but worry when thinking about the future and how it will impact me, how I teach, and what I teach. How will I be compared to others who took them,” Williams said.

Williams also has taken both of her practicums and feels as though the Praxis exams served more as a refresher for general knowledge than a key element to being a good teacher.

“I feel as though the classes I was taking in college during my practicums were more important and impactful while in the classroom rather than the Praxis exams,” Williams confessed.

Individuals that are in the teaching community have been told how important these exams are to become certified educators. Now, without these exams being mandatory, students may feel some anxieties about how they will be successful teachers without the confidence of passing.

The Associate Professor of Secondary and Middle Education here at UMF, Clarissa Thompason, believes that these tests, along with standardized tests as a whole, are not the proper way to gauge whether or not a student would eventually become a good teacher.

“[…] I don’t think they [Praxis exams] really mark how bright you are, how motivated you are, or how well you’re gonna do in college. It discriminates against English language learners, it discriminates against kids from less privileged backgrounds, it discriminates against kids from poorer schools. It becomes a gateway here and kids who might be fantastic teachers can’t get past that and spend tons of money on it. So, they measure something, but it’s really small,” Thompson said.

Currently, licenced future Maine educators are required to get fingerprinted, earn at least a bachelor’s degree in education, and be accredited by a university.

Checking in on Spring Student Teachers

By Avery Ryan Contributing Writer

  The projector whirs with the display of a world map. A flurry of Expo markers paints rules, legends, and keys across the expanse of the whiteboard. Students ponder, murmur, and think. Suddenly, a spark. Discussion deepens, smiles spread across students faces as their understanding grows. The bell rings and students rise from their seats, but discussion has not stopped.

   “That’s my goal. To have a classroom that is both engaging and enjoyable,” said Isaac Michaud, a social studies student teachers at Skowhegan Area High School. Michaud, like all spring student teachers, has reached the halfway point of his assignment. “I felt prepared educationally, [in January, when he started student teaching] but I was still very nervous… you never know what can happen in a classroom.”

   Michaud emphasized how valuable the experience of student teaching has been for him. “I hadn’t been in the classroom in a while, and being in a classroom teaching what I love made me want to teach.” Even will all of his classes, Michaud felt that there was much to be gained from student teaching. “You can be taught lesson plans and strategies, but you can’t prepare for the behavior and interactions from students and faculty.”

   Chelsea Ballard, another student teacher, offered a different perspective going into her assignment: “In October I joined this class for the Advanced Practicum and transitioned right to student teaching in January… I already knew my mentor teacher, the staff, and my kiddos so I wasn’t introduced to anything new. My perspective on teaching hasn’t changed, and this has confirmed that this is exactly what I want to to do with my life. I look forward to getting up and going to school everyday.”

   Both student teachers noted the “lightbulb moments” as their favorite times in their placements. “This student was really confused one day during math instruction. I noticed, and took the time to sit down with the student one on one and break down what we were doing,” said Ballard. “At the end of my explanation, a light bulb went on in the students head, and they finally understood. I love being able to have those special moments with my students. It makes me feel like I am doing a good job.”

   Similarly, Michaud stated that “It was one of my first activities with a senior group. I was nervous about how close we were in age, and it was an activity focused on the development of countries. They got really into the activity and asked if we could do it again with different countries. They left the class smiling.”

   On the topic of obstacles, both Michaud and Ballard noted how difficult it is to balance their personal lives with teaching. “Whether it be managing time with schoolwork, or trying to have a social life, it can be pretty difficult,” said Ballard. “As a college student there are a lot of different times during the day to do schoolwork. When you are teaching, there is barely any time to go to the bathroom. So learning how to manage your time for schoolwork and a social life can be challenging.”

   Michaud echoed Ballard’s thoughts: “In teaching you can only plan so far ahead. When I get home I’m doing all kinds of other work.” Michaud continued with advice from his mentor, “You have to ask yourself, ‘Is it important, or urgent?’ Does it have to happen now or can it happen tomorrow? Go for that run, hang out with friends – take care of yourself.”

   As far as advice for future student teachers, Michaud said “Don’t be afraid to take risks that are different from your mentors approach, and don’t get caught up in all of your outside work for seminar. Take care of yourself, then your students, then seminar.”

   Ballard offered another perspective: “Take every opportunity you can get. Go to every meeting, every parent teacher conference, and really get to know your kids. You would be surprised to how much you learn about yourself as a teacher from your students. Kids need us and we need them.”