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Thousands of elementary school teachers fail state math exams. Educators, unions blame the tests.

Some teachers are having trouble passing portions of their state licensing exams and the exams may be to blame. This is a photo illustration of a teacher in her classroom. (Duane Prokop/Getty Images for Feeding America)

Thousands of elementary school teachers have failed portions of their state licensing exams, and it's placing their careers in danger.

Why is this happening?

Some say the exams, not the teachers, are to blame.

In North Carolina, almost 2,400 elementary school teachers have failed the math portion of their licensing exams over the last five years, the Charlotte Observer reported.

The failures have increased since the state hired Pearson publishing company in 2013 to give the exam, according to a report given to the state Board of Education.

Failure rates are going up at a time when schools across North Carolina are struggling to find teachers for the youngest students, the report stated.

Growing concerns about Pearson’s licensing exams has become so pervasive that it was a topic of discussion at this year’s National Education Association conference, North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell told the Observer.

“I hope this doesn’t lead to a mass exodus of new teachers and exacerbate our shortages,” Jewell said.

Last month, North Carolina’s Board of education gave teachers an additional year to pass the exam. The question is whether the tests measure skills needed to effectively teach elementary school students, or if they’re testing math that’s taught in higher grade levels.

Are other states in the same situation?

Teachers in Florida and Indiana also have struggled with mass failures since adopting Pearson's testing, according to reports.

In 2017, failure rates from Florida's Teacher Certification and Leadership exams posted an all-time high — about 30 percent on some portions of the exam — WFTS-TV reported.

Some education students pass their degree programs but struggle to pass the licensing exam, David Allsopp, associate dean at University of South Florida College of Education, told the station. He added that other colleges and university education programs across the state are seeing the same trend.

In some cases, schools are turning to long-term substitutes. In the Manatee County school district, for example, long-term substitutes are used to cover more than 50 of its classrooms, according to WFTS.

The Tribune Star reported in 2015 that some Indiana teachers with education degrees claimed that Pearson’s tests are difficult, that the questions are not related to the grade levels they’re teaching, and that there is a lack of appropriate study materials for the test.

What is North Carolina doing?

In North Carolina, the state formed a committee of experts to determine if the Pearson test is truly aligned with the state’s K-8 curriculum and whether there are any alternative tests that might be better.

A committee presentation questioned if success on licensing exams is a true indicator of effectiveness in the classroom. That question will be the focus of a future study, the Observer reported.

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