The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

African-American teachers scored lower on a controversial new teaching exam states are adopting to make becoming a teacher a more rigorous process.

Advocates of the Stanford University-owned exam, known as edTPA, say its focus on performance in the classroom – including videos and essays based on candidates’ student teaching – will better prepare new teachers and increase teaching quality in schools that badly need it. But critics have worried the test could create another stumbling block for minority teachers, who are underrepresented in the profession.

About 70 percent of candidates scored a 42, the cut score recommended by the group that administers edTPA, according to an analysis released by the group Tuesday. But no states use that bar. In Washington and New York, the only two states using it in teaching licensing, the cut scores were 35 and 41, respectively. (89 percent of all teachers scored 35 or better.)

Overall, the Stanford report said “differences by racial /ethnic group were small, women generally scored more highly than men, and suburban teachers on average scored more highly than teachers in other teaching contexts.” The average score for black teacher candidates was 41 (below the recommended pass rate), compared to roughly 45 for white, Hispanic and Asians.

Related: Will controversial new tests for teachers make the profession even more overwhelmingly white?

Ethnicity was a small factor in explaining differences in candidate scores, 1.48 percent, according to the report. Place accounted for about 1.15 percent of the variance. In other words, teachers who did their student teaching the suburbs tended to score slightly better (45.26) than teachers who trained elsewhere, including in rural (43.29) and urban (44.9) areas.

“We’re going to launch an investigation to get behind these test scores.”

Raymond Pecheone, executive director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity, which owns edTPA, said though race was a small factor in determining the exam outcomes, the center is taking the gap seriously.

“We’re going to launch an investigation to get behind these test scores,” he said. He said the lower average for black teachers may have “to do with the nature of preparation and support” in different programs, adding, “We have a responsibility to look into it deeply.”

The teaching field has been working to address disparities in the number of teachers of color compared to students of color. Research suggests students can perform better when they’re exposed to teachers of their own background; black teachers tend to have higher expectations for black students, for instance.

Related: Why don’t more teachers like the edTPA?

That’s why using a test like edTPA as a version of the bar exam for teaching worries some critics. As Hechinger has reported, the tests “cost more money, take more time, and require the teacher aspirants to do more work — all of which could deter low-income and minority teacher candidates who were already faring worse, on average, on the less rigorous state-administered certification tests.” (Pecheone has argued against using the edTPA as a requirement to entry into the profession, unless it’s one of multiple measures rating whether teachers are ready.)

Concern over diversity is also why the U.S. Education Department declined to use the GPA of incoming teaching recruits as a way to judge teaching programs when it released new accountability rules last week. Department officials said they didn’t want to adversely affect programs that target black and Hispanic teachers, and would focus on program outcomes instead.

Others argue that keeping expectations lower for incoming teachers as a way to aid diversity efforts is a mistake.

“We run the risk of assuming that children of color will suddenly be able to perform if they see a teacher who looks like them. That’s just not the case,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. Race matters, but most important, she said, is that teachers be effective.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about teacher preparation.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters to the Editor

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information. We will not consider letters that do not contain a full name and valid email address. You may submit news tips or ideas here without a full name, but not letters.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email address. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *