Education System in U.S.: Nearly 2,400 North Carolina Teachers Fail Math Exams, Prompting Look at Tests

Nearly 2,400 elementary school teachers in North Carolina have reportedly failed the math section of their licensing exams since the publishing company Pearson began issuing the tests in 2013, a report given to the state's Board of Education on Wednesday revealed. Florida and Indiana have also seen failure rates spike since adopting testing by Pearson.

Education officials and teachers are pointing to the Pearson exams as the root of the problem.

A teacher writes an equation on a whiteboard during a math lesson at a secondary school on December 1, 2014, in London, England. More than 2,000 teachers in North Carolina have failed the math portion of their licensing exams since the 2014-15 school year. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Prior to the Pearson exams, North Carolina required teachers to pass a state exam called the Praxis 5015 in order to work. The average pass rate for the state exam was approximately 85 percent for the school years 2011-12 and 2013-14, Dr. Thomas Tomberlin and Dr. Andrew Sioberg told the Board of Education in a presentation on Wednesday.

After adopting the Pearson exams, pass rates for the math exams in North Carolina "dramatically" fell to 65.1 percent in the 2014-15 school year. The pass rate continued to drop, hitting 54.5 percent in the 2016-17 school year, the presentation revealed.

The number of teachers who failed the exams and did not attempt to retake it also began to rise beginning in 2014-15. In the 2016-17, 987 exam takers failed the Pearson licensing exams and did not try to take the exam again that year. Teachers must pass their licensing exams in order to continue teaching in the state.

In July, the Board of Education authorized giving teachers an additional year to pass their licensing exams.

The board also plans to review the Pearson exams, The Charlotte Observer reported. Officials will look to see if the testsaccurately measure the skills needed to effectively teach elementary students or if the exams measure math skills used in higher grades.

Tomberlin, the director of school research, data and reporting for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said he believes the state chose Pearson because it is an established and reputable company.

"We haven't done the work of seeing whether they're meeting our needs in North Carolina," Tomberlin told the board, according to The Charlotte Observer.

A subcommittee has been established to look into whether the Pearson exams are misaligned with the state's K-8 curriculum. The subcommittee is tasked with finding alternative exams that "would be less about mathematics content knowledge and more about math knowledge to support strong teaching and pedagogy," the presentation said.

"Pearson supports the efforts of the North Carolina Board of Education (BOE) to have high-quality, valid educator licensure assessments. We have been working with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and North Carolina educators to implement the exams on behalf of the State to help North Carolina achieve its education goals," Pearson spokesperson Scott Overland said in a statement to Newsweek. "North Carolina teachers are deeply involved throughout the process of validating educator licensure assessments."

Overland continued: "Test scores required for passing are determined by the State and are informed by recommendations from North Carolina educators resulting from standard setting activities. Pearson does not place any artificial barriers in the way of candidate success and only considers test scores as criteria for passage."

A similar situation has been brewing in Indiana, which requires teachers to passCORE exams to work. The exams, which were created by Pearson, have a low pass rate, according to WTHR Channel 13. The pass rate for elementary education is just 30 percent, while the mathematics test has a pass rate of 19 percent.

Following an investigation by WTHR, the Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) ordered a review of the CORE assessment program. The review found that there was information to support the continued use of the test but found there were also opportunities to improve.

This article has been updated to include the statement from Pearson spokesperson Scott Overland.