The New York State Teacher Certification Exams are a requirement for the transitional B teaching certificate that Teaching Fellows and Teaching Collaborative Partner Teachers apply for near the end of pre-service training. Admittedly, I don’t know what correlation exists between my performance on these tests and my ability to be successful as a classroom teacher, but they are a necessary hoop that all teacher candidates in the state of New York must jump through. The tests are very successful in padding the pockets of Pearson and whittling away at my humble NYCTC program stipend, but I’m not sure those are the explicit goals of the exams.
At the time of writing this post, I’ve passed all three of the required multi-subject Content Specialty Tests (CSTs) for the students with disabilities (7-12) generalist license. I took the Educating All Students (EAS) exam yesterday morning and thought it went pretty well. I’ll have my results in a month. In the meantime, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts while the experience was relatively fresh in my mind.
Content Specialty Tests
The Content Specialty Tests (or CST’s) measure the knowledge and skills required of teachers to be successful in their license areas. Math teachers take the math CST, biology teachers take the biology CST, and so on. It’s pretty straightforward, with the exception that students with disabilities (SWD) generalist candidates take a multi-subject CST that assesses our general competency across literacy/ELA, math, and arts & sciences. Despite having very similar names, there is a different multi-subject exam sequence for each grade band. I’m an SWD grades 7-12 generalist candidate, so I took the 241/244/245 exam sequence.
I don’t have much to say about the multi-subject CST, other than it felt like I was taking the ACT again, but interspersed with some questions about teaching pedagogy. I remember telling myself: “Just take the tests so you know what to expect.” I was fully prepared to take the tests again, as I was really curious to see what the multi-subject math exam would be like. Things worked out in my favor, as I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I passed all three exams on on my first go.
Some people don’t fare as well, and that’s okay. I think each candidate should do what’s best for them, whether that looks like purchasing study guides on Amazon or even paying for a personal tutor. The peace of mind and confidence might be worth the investment. NYSED doesn’t care what you get on the tests or even how many times you take them — they literally just look for a passing score posted to your TEACH account.
Educating All Students
The EAS exam measures the foundational skills needed to teach diverse student populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners. I thought the test was pretty straightforward except for an annoying occurrence where two answers could have fit the scenario pretty well depending on the needs of the student. This is especially true for special education and ENL populations, which can seldom be distilled down to a multiple choice answer. The test had three written response questions that I really enjoyed because I felt like I got to address an actual problem and to provide a rationale for it. I think anyone with experience working in a school setting (substitute teacher, paraprofessional, etc.) will fare pretty well on the EAS, although some review might be needed in certain areas. I’m much more familiar with special education through my previous work as a substitute teacher and current field placement, but I did have to brush up a bit on the concepts for supporting ENL students.
COVID Emergency License
The emergency COVID-19 certificate was implemented by NY state during the pandemic, when access to testing centers was greatly limited. The idea is that any candidate who completed all requirements for their teaching license except for the certification exams would be certified to teach and given a two year window to complete the exams. I know of a few cohort members who are planning on postponing their CST and EAS exams and opting for the COVID emergency license, but I think the prudent course of action is to complete the exams now and only have to deal with NYSED once for the transitional B license. Some are okay with redundancy — more power to them, I suppose.
The tests aren’t bad at all. I believe anyone can easily pass them with some preparation, and that’ll look a bit different for everyone depending on their background knowledge and their comfortability with standardized testing. I’d like to offer a few tips based on my humble experience:
- Stay calm.
- Take the tests as soon as possible. It’s free to reschedule the exams as long as you do so at least 48 hours in advance. Each registration is good for one year.
- Passing is the goal, not perfection. It doesn’t matter if it takes a few tries to pass the exams, or if you pass by a few points. NYSED just looks for a passing score to be posted to your TEACH account when they review your transitional license application.
- Use the Brooklyn Education Center. I thought that the resources available through BEC were particularly useful. I can see them being really helpful for teacher candidates who are worried about the multi-subject math exam. $60 gets you access to one of BEC’s set of materials for 3-4 months. A pretty good deal in my opinion. I believe that BEC used to offer actual classes that candidates could attend in person, but have since pivoted to a self-paced model during the pandemic. They freely offer a PDF study guide for part 3 of the multi-subject CST, which I think is pretty neat.
- Stay calm.
- Be aware of the exam retake policies and the NYCTF/Collaborative expectations for submitting a passing score. All exams require a 30 or 60 day cooldown period before you can test again. You don’t want to end up in the awkward position of having to wait 30+ days while also pushing the program’s deadline to submit scores. It could also potentially jeopardize your ability to progress in the program if the state can’t issue your teaching license because you’re missing an exam. This is less of an issue for the program’s 2022 cohort due to the safety net of the COVID emergency license, but my guess is that this option will sunset after the September 2022 deadline.
- Don’t sweat the details. The tests throw a lot of information at you, especially when reviewing different artifacts like teacher lesson plans and notes. The testing software includes a strikethrough and highlighter tool, both of which I found particularly useful.
- Did I mention…stay calm? You’re going to do great!