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Staff file photo / A sign near an entrance to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus along McCallie Avenue is shown Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

A new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality indicates slightly more than a fourth of all Tennessee elementary school teacher candidates and more than a third of teacher candidates of color who fail their licensure test on their first attempt don't try a second time, but the data in the report shows the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga — the area's primary teacher training institute — betters the state numbers.

The analysis focuses on the years 2015 to 2018, when elementary teacher candidates were required to take two Praxis exams for state licensure. One covered teaching curriculum, instruction and assessment, and the other involved the minimum content knowledge to teach a subject.

Two years ago, the state moved to one Praxis test that generated scores on content knowledge in the areas of English language arts, math, science and social studies. Students must pass all of the areas to obtain licensure, but they can take tests on each of the subsections individually if they fail the first time around.

Of the 317 state test takers who failed the Praxis curriculum, instruction and assessment test on their first try over the 2015-2018 period, 84 (26.5%) walked away and did not test again. Of the 1,959 who failed the content knowledge test over the same period, 413 (21.1%) walked away.

At UTC, though, all seven who took the curriculum, instruction and assessment test passed on their first try. Of the 81 who failed their content knowledge exam the first time, only 10 students (12.3%) walked away and did not test again.

Among students of color across the state, 35 of 93 (37.7%) who failed their curriculum, instruction and assessment exam on the first try did not opt for a second try. Of those same students who failed the content test the first time around, 189 of 552 (34.2%) did not return.

At UTC, the one student of color who attempted the curriculum, instruction and assessment test passed on the first attempt, and of the five who failed the content knowledge exam the first time, none walked away. The numbers showed three took the test a second time to pass and two had to take it four or more times before passing.

Pass and walk-away rates rates

Pass rates

Best-attempt pass rates on Praxis elementary education curriculum, instruction and assessment test, 2015-2018

— University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 100%

— Southern Adventist University, 98%

— Lee University, 98%

— Bryan College, 97%

— Tennessee Wesleyan University, 96%

Best-attempt pass rates on Praxis elementary education content knowledge test, 2015-2018

— Bryan College, 97%

— Southern Adventist University, 96%

— Lee University, 94%

— University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 91%

— Tennessee Wesleyan University, 88%

Walk-Away rates

Walk-away rates for teacher candidates who failed Praxis curriculum, instruction and assessment test, 2015-2018

— University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 0%

— Southern Adventist University, 22.2%

— Bryan College, 33.3%

— Lee University, 33.3%

— Tennessee Wesleyan University, 100%

Walk-away rates for teacher candidates who failed Praxis content knowledge test, 2015-2018

— University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 12.3%

— Bryan College, 14.3%

— Lee University, 18.0%

— Southern Adventist University, 22.2%

— Tennessee Wesleyan University, 30%

While our local public university can be proud of bettering the state numbers in having a smaller percentage of teacher candidates who walked away from potential licensure, the small number of minority student candidates overall is concerning.

As with the attempted recruitment of minority police officers locally, it's not because no one has tried. UTC has implemented a robust recruitment plan for minority students over the past several decades.

But when minority communities complain because there are not enough teachers in their child's school who look like their child, they must understand the candidates are limited. And as the numbers in the report show, an alarming number — at least across the state — wash out when they fail their first test.

The National Council on Teacher Quality report, and the article the Times Free Press ran that reported on it, blame everyone but the students themselves.

The news article quoted a Black college student who said he "can see why students might walk away" when they fail, "especially minorities." He said he never had the "proper preparation to write an essay or cite references from a website." The article also quoted a former teacher, who said "if you're a product of K-12 inequity, you're always playing catch-up."

We wonder how other students from the same high school the student referred to make it and why those who don't feel prepared don't ask for help. And then for some students to say they made it through college to their licensure exams and weren't prepared, we wonder why not.

Universities and colleges in the last generation have grown to bursting with all manner of programmatic help and hand-holding for any student in need.

A glance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga website, for instance, reveals an entire Students Success Programs center. Within those programs are specific outreaches for first- and second-year students, a first-year experience course, residential learning communities, a career and leadership development center, a Center for Wellbeing, an Office of Student Outreach and Support, an Office of Multicultural Affairs, and first-generation programs, just to name a few.

Even within UTC's Teacher Education Program, there are resources and assistance all along the way so those who want to teach are supported and guided as they advance toward licensure.

The National Council on Teacher Quality report insists that "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."

We agree that higher education institutions, along with state education agencies and testing companies, must work together to ready candidates for the classroom. But we cannot absolve students of the work they must do, the hours they must put in and the barriers they may have to overcome in order to be ready. If teaching is to prepare students for the world, the teachers themselves must make sure they are prepared.

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