National Trends in Teacher Licensure

Aug 7, 2021 by

State pass rates for teacher licensure exams are harder to come by than one might think. Between teacher prep programs stonewalling and state bureaucracy, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has been working on getting adequate data for 20 years. The numbers they do have indicate that 45% of candidates in states that have a “well-structured licensure test” pass on their first attempt. Meaning, that less than half of future teachers pass a test on different content areas to become licensed on the first try. That’s a lot lower than other standardized professional exams such as the Bar exam for attorneys.

And it’s an expensive test, thus, according to NCTQ, 22% of those who fail the first time never take the test again and 30% are test-takers of color. Also, only 38 percent of black candidates and 57 percent of Hispanic candidates ever pass the most common teacher licensing test, the Praxis elementary education content test, which is required by 18 states and is optional in five others.

In Putman and Walsh’s 2021 State of States Teacher Preparation Policy report, the authors evaluate state trends in preparing classroom-ready teachers with a focus on states’ shifting testing regimes. One of the starkest assertions they make is that the number of states that have strengthened their elementary content testing requirements equals the number of states that have backtracked on those same testing requirements (Putman and Walsh, 2021). Others have blamed stagnant pay and poor working conditions in enticing quality prospective teachers.

However, as Sandarg and Schomber (2009) explain, that there are several obstacles involved including discrepancies between test format and best practices in the classroom, lack of sufficient practice for productive skills sections of the exam, and ignorance of test-taking strategies. They even recommend curricular and classroom realignments to compensate for these shortcomings, suggest programmatic enhancements to support the development of the teachers, and include a checklist for students to help them prepare for licensing exams.

Goldhaber, Krieg, Naito, and Theobald (2019) point out that teachers are more effective when they student teach with a more effective mentor and that there needs to be better coordination between teacher education programs, K–12 school systems, and states. The global pandemic has also placed a spotlight on licensure exams for teachers and the alignment with real-world classroom scenarios; some states have even approved additional pass scores and flexibility waivers.


Are teaching licensure exams antiquated or are preparation programs doing a disservice to teachers? Should teachers face more stringent licensure protocols?


K-12 education, teacher preparation, PRAXIS, licensure exam


Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., Naito, N., & Theobald, R. (2019). Making the most of student teaching: The importance of mentors and scope for change. Education Finance and Policy, 1-11 Retrieved from:

Putman, H. and Walsh, K. (2021). State of States 2021: Teacher Preparation Policy. Washington, D.C., National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from:

Sandarg, J. & Schomber, J. (2009).  Preparing students for the teacher licensure exam: it’s more than just the content. In C. Wilkerson (Ed.), Dimension 2009 Empowerment through Collaboration. Retrieved from:

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