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Changes ahead for teacher exam, in effort to get more educators of color in Massachusetts classrooms

Students in a classroom.
Jill Kaufman
Students in a classroom.

The changes to a portion of Massachusetts's teacher license exam are "in service of a more diverse and effective educator workforce," said Russell Johnston, the state's acting Commissioner of Education at a recent meeting of the state Board of Education.

"This is an opportunity for evolution and opportunity for improvement," Johnston said.

The Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure or MTEL are designed to help ensure that educators can communicate adequately with students, parents/guardians, and other educators and that they are knowledgeable in the subject matter of the license(s) sought.

Specifically, the MTEL in communication and literacy skills will continue to measure an aspiring teachers' ability to write and read, and for the first time, it would also assess how an aspiring teacher communicates with students and their families. It was last updated in 2009.

"This focus on literacy skills [currently], while very valuable, does not realize the potential for an importance of including culturally and linguistically sustaining communications and literacy skills," said Claire Abbott, who directs DESE's Office of Educator Effectiveness.

The goal is to develop a new framework that will guide the test redevelopment, Abbott said.

Massachusetts Board of Education member Erika Fisher, a professor of education at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., commended the changes.

In the future, she said, they will ensure teachers can engage with students from a variety of backgrounds.

"I think about the research...about how we communicate with our students in the classroom, how caregivers and families we communicate with them, how they view the school, how that then directly impacts engagement and achievement," Fisher said.

The updates are also about educating aspiring teachers to be effective in terms of relationship building, Fisher said.

"[An updated MTEL is] creating that pipeline of people who know how to engage with various populations," Fisher said.

The timeline for the new classroom framework and revising the license exam is about two years.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."

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