Saturday, March 13, 2010

What is Praxis and how can every department help our students pass it?

Guest Blogger: Emery Petchauer

Praxis I is the common name for the Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST) or teacher licensure test(s) that all students in Pennsylvania must take in order to become certificated teachers. Not only must students pass it to become licensed teachers, they must pass it (i.e., a reading, writing, and math test at roughly 8th grade content—approximately 40 questions each) before they can declare education as a major. Thus, education is a major that students must test into. This gatekeeper position of the exam is not because it identifies students who hold promise as effective educators; rather, the position is due to program accreditation demands set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (as it the 3.0 minimum GPA requirement)

At time of this writing, there are 41 students enrolled on the main campus who have passed Praxis I. Some of these students passed all three parts on their first attempt, and some passed on multiple attempts. There are approximately 25 more students who have passed different combinations of the three required sub-tests and are working toward passing all of Praxis I. This number of passing students has increased since the education department centralized our preparation efforts in 2007 by creating the Praxis Cohort tutorial, and these efforts are modified each year to continually improve our program.

Despite these improvements and efforts, passing Praxis remains a significant challenge for many of our students and is the most common reason students change majors or are counseled to do so. This difficulty in passing Praxis is due to (a) some inadequate high school educations, (b) previous failure experiences with standardized tests, (c) the cultural and social class bias of such tests, and (d) misinformation about the test, which creates cognitive and affective dispositions that decrease the likelihood of passing (i.e., the ideas that “nobody” passes the test).

Since Lincoln University holds accredited teaching programs in many secondary fields (e.g., mathematics, biology, English, Spanish, history and social studies, etc.), each school on campus graduates teachers. In this way, each school can be a part of successfully preparing our students to pass Praxis by content and disposition. Preparation in terms of content is rather straightforward in that some classes in the mathematics, English and mass communications, and education departments (and thus our three schools) connect most directly with the three areas of Praxis I. The second area, dispositions, I believe is equally important and is more relevant to every department on campus.

What people believe about their capabilities on specific tasks significantly shapes the decisions they make, how much effort they exert, how much they persistence through obstacles, how much stress and affective burden they experience, and their perceptions of accomplishment. Beliefs, in fact, are often more important to motivation and affective states than what is objectively true. These points come from the extensive body of research on self-efficacy ala Albert Bandura (1997). Self-efficacy is shaped by four information sources: previous mastery experience, vicarious experience, verbal and social persuasion, and physiological states.

What all of this means to every department on campus is that by giving students vicarious successful experiences (e.g., highlighting the successful experiences of students “just like them”), and by giving students positive verbal and social persuasion about Praxis related skills (e.g., “I’ve seen your writing in class, and I think you will pass Praxis writing), professors play an integral roll in helping improve students’ Praxis efficacy. Similarly, being careful not to talk about the test and testing experiences in ways that decrease self-efficacy (e.g., “Lincoln students don’t do well on Praxis”) helps our students pass.

Here are some other factual pieces of information that you can easily tell students when the topic of Praxis comes up:
  • People just like you pass Praxis all the time
  • Some people pass the first time they take it; some have to study to pass
  • There are over 40 students on campus right now who have passed all parts of Praxis
  • One students last year missed only 1 question on the math test
  • Another student’s math score improved 13 points (out of 40) after studying for the math test for 8 weeks
  • You only have to get about 55% correct to pass—not 100%

Here are some things to avoid saying because they will likely decrease self-efficacy and/or they are not true:
  • African American students do not perform well on standardized tests
  • Lincoln students don’t to well on Praxis
  • You can’t really study for Praxis
  • I was never good at tests like that

Related Resources:

Bandura, A. (1997).
Self-efficacy: The exercise of self control. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Bennett, C. I., McWhorter, L. M., & Kuykendall, J. A. (2006). Will I ever teach? Latino and African American students’ perceptions on PRAXIS I. American Educational Research Journal, 43, 531-575.

Goldhaber, D., & Hansen, M. (2010). Race, gender, and teacher testing: How informative a tool is teacher licensure testing? American Educational Research Journal, 47, 218-251.


  1. Thank you for your affirming advice. After observing two student teachers this past week (both of whom did well), I relived my first experience with teaching, and I was reminded how helpful a positive disposition from other teachers can be. Your application to the Praxis test, therefore, makes perfect sense.

    I am also struck by the content aspect of the Praxis. I know very little about the test. Could you or the Ed department run a workshop for me or others in order to enlighten us and help us see our role in ensuring that LU students continue to be successful on the test?

  2. We def can give a little worshop or something. Thanks for asking! We'll put something together and send word


  3. Nice post about praxis exams and yes even I know a little about praxis exams i.e. praxis exam are for obtaining teaching license. They are very tough exams and hard to clear but if you work hard and takes proper tutoring then you can clear it and become a high profile tutor. Also the praxis exam is available in almost every subject so you can pick the one in which you are interested. . . . Praxis 2 study Guide