Today was my final test that I have to take for Illinois teacher certification, the APT (Assessment of Professional Teaching) test. The day, to put things lightly, could have gone better.

For one, I hate Google Maps for telling me to take a non-existent exit and making me approximately 10-15 minutes late for the test (which I was still able to take, thankfully).

The test itself wasn’t really bad, for the most part, but I was thoroughly annoyed by some of it. The test consists of 120 multiple choice questions dealing with 6 subareas and 2 “constructed-responses” – basically, extended writing – given on prompts that would be specific to one’s content area and age range (e.g. early childhood, elementary, secondary). I took me about 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete it, and my wrist still hurts a little from the writing.

What got to me were some of the multiple choice questions that were given on the test and the possible answers that were provided. I already have a dim view of multiple choice tests that purport to assess higher-order thinking, but these questions were just ridiculous. Several of them gave a scenario and made statements like “It is critical that…” or “It is important to…” that then needed to be completed by one of the selections. The problem was that many of the answers were reasonable enough that I couldn’t really figure out the “best” answer without having to do a lot of thinking about what the test creators might have wanted. I felt like I was searching for a code word – e.g.,  “Oh, you wanted a humanist response?” I knew it would be somewhat like this from doing the study guide questions, where the prompt, speaking about the rules and expectations of a hypothetical second grade teacher’s classroom, asked the question, “Which of the following is critical to consider in composing this list of classroom rules?” with the following options:

  • anticipating the range of behaviors to be expected from the particular group of students in the coming year
  • establishing a system for rewarding adherence to the established rules and managing exceptional situations that may arise
  • making sure that classroom rules do not conflict with the administration’s school-wide rules and regulations
  • ensuring that students are part of the rule-making process so they share the responsibility for maintaining an orderly classroom

I was easily able to eliminate the first two options, #1 because no teacher can anticipate the range of behaviors from any group of students (kids are often unpredictable when it comes to behavior) and #2 because it is far too authoritarian to make its way into a state certification test in this blue state (if not any state). I settled on #3 because of the use of the word critical, thinking that it is imperative (a reasonable synonym, in my mind) for teachers to have rules that don’t conflict with school regulations. #4, while a good idea, didn’t seem like a critical move, perhaps especially for second graders, who might need a little more direction on behavior from an authority figure. (I really wouldn’t know; I’m not an expert in second grade discipline.)

The answer, though, was #4, and I am still puzzled as to why that option was given as a “critical” consideration. The answer is reasonable within certain frameworks and educational philosophies and perhaps nonsensical in others – why is it given such weight? What do I need to assume about these test creators and their own philosophies on teaching?

See where the ambiguity is ridiculous? And there were many more questions like that, although I think perhaps the majority were more reasonable. (I can’t really know – I didn’t really have any significant doubt that my answer to the previous question was wrong! And since I will only get back my scaled scores, I’ll likely never know.)

I honestly think that it would have been more useful to include more writing – although my wrist hates me for typing it! – rather than such a significant multiple choice component, simply because the latter seems like an effort to include something that is supposedly “objective” and of course easy to grade. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like my knowledge and understanding of pedagogy, human development, and so forth were really meaningfully assessed by that section, and as such, it was just a waste of my time. We have enough time-wasters in education: why promote it for those trying to become the teachers that fight them?

Sigh. At least it’s done, and I can hope for my 240 or higher scaled score so that I can be done with the mess. I do hope that somewhere, way out in the (Intern)ether, there is someone who reads this who can do something about the rank asininity of making teachers take a multiple choice test to assess their professional knowledge as though it really means something. (If you’re reading: Help!) All that prospective teachers need are more bad tastes from the world of education, and minimizing those could really mean something in the long run.