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Prepublishing the Essay Topics for a Teacher Licensing Test: A Small-Scale Simulation

Aberle, Dale J.; Bly, Mary; Collins, Grace E.; Farnum, Marisa; Fowles, Mary E.; Lytle, Richard; Mather, Susan; Pollack, Nancy; Powers, Donald E.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Essay Tests, Praxis Series, Teacher Certification, Teacher Evaluation, Test Coaching, Test Preparation


The computer-based Praxis I: Academic Skills Assessment component of The Praxis Series: Professional Assessments for Beginning Teachers will include a measure of prospective teachers' writing proficiency. Current plans call for making available to test takers (before they take the exam) a pool of approximately 80 essay topics, from which the actual test topics will be drawn initially. The objectives of the study described here were to predict the impact of this policy on the ways in which test takers will prepare for the test and to estimate the effect of this new practice on examinees' eventual test performance. To make these determinations, a small-scale study was undertaken in collaboration with writing instructors at four different colleges or universities. Within the context of undergraduate writing courses at these institutions, instructors designed and conducted brief "coaching" programs in response to a challenge to provide any advice, instruction, tricks, etc., that might help their students achieve a minimally acceptable score on the test. A pool of 10 topics was disclosed and used in the coaching. Upon completion of the coaching, all students wrote two essays--one on a disclosed topic and one on a comparable, previously unseen topic. Comparisons revealed very little difference between students' subsequent performances on these two types of topics. Performances on the two topics did not correlate differentially with any of three available indicators of academic ability/achievement. However, students believed that their writing skills were better revealed by writing on disclosed topics than on topics that had not been previously seen. In short, the study uncovered little to suggest that plans for disclosing a pool of Praxis I essay topics should be modified. (28pp.)

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