The Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure (MTEL) program is administered by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to ensure that people who are graduating from accredited teacher education programs have the knowledge they need to enter the teaching profession. It is understood that we continue to acquire knowledge as we teach, and that much of a teacher’s pedagogical effectiveness will emerge from experience in the classroom. At the same time, the state wants to ensure that candidates for the teaching profession have at least an entry level grasp of the key concepts and skills they will be expected to teach and apply in their chosen field and at their chosen grade level.
To obtain a teaching certificate in the state of Massachusetts, you must pass a test of your communication and literacy skills (how well you can read and write), and a test of your content knowledge in the appropriate field. If you want a license to teach at the early childhood or elementary level, you must also pass a test of your knowledge about what is involved in teaching children to read. Three resources are readily available as you prepare for these different MTEL challenges: (1)the MTEL internet web site, (2)faculty in your program, and, (3)your own preparation time.
The MTEL program provides a number of practical resources to help you prepare for the exam. Log onto the internet and simply enter “MTEL” in the search field and you will be led to the website for this program. Here you will find a listing of all the MTEL tests, by specific fields, and the dates they are scheduled to be administered across the state. There are test information booklets and other materials that you can either send away for or review on line. Within each of the fields that offer certification, for example, you will find a document that clearly describes what the specific test objectives are for that test. You can use these as a study guide to make sure you have reviewed all of the key subject area knowledge that will be tested in your area of certification.
The web site has a practice test for most content areas. You can take the practice test as a way to familiarize yourself with how the multiple choice questions are structured, with the level of difficulty, with the depth of understanding that will be required to choose among the given answers, with the amount of time it takes, and so on. The answers are provided at the end, so that you can also see how well you did.
Every MTEL test includes one or two open-ended responses: questions that require an answer in the form of an essay. Sample open-ended questions are included on the practice test, along with sample weak and strong responses to those questions. You can use these to better understand what is expected on open response items – that is, how to construct a response that will demonstrate the depth of your knowledge and understanding. The standard criteria that are used to evaluate all open-ended responses are given to you, along with an analysis of how the sample weak and strong responses met or failed to meet those criteria.
With regard to the communication and literacy skills (referred to as “comlit”) portion of the test, be aware that some colleges and universities have decided to require students to pass that test before they can be admitted to a teacher education program. The reasoning here is that it doesn’t make sense to devote the program’s resources to individuals who do not yet demonstrate college level competence with reading and writing, because those are fundamental to all teaching skills. In those cases, students would take the comlit test by the end of their sophomore year of college, before the courses specific to teacher preparation begin. Even if your institution does not require this, it may be to your benefit to see if you can pass the comlit test before you make a final decision to be a teacher. Your ability to obtain meaning from textual material, and to communicate meaning clearly – in writing and orally; to children, to professional colleagues, to parents – will be essential to your success as a teacher.
Talk to faculty members in your teacher preparation program about what their expectations are for the communication and literacy skills of their students, and what is done during the program to ensure that their students can meet the reading and writing standards of the MTEL comlit test. Every time the MTEL tests are administered and scored, DESE receives a detailed report that profiles how the students in each teacher education program at each college and university in the state performed on that test. That information is then passed on to each institution. You can ask faculty members to share with you which sections of the test their students have typically had the hardest time passing, and what recommendations they make to students to help them succeed on the test.
The same is true for the content test you will take at the end of your teacher preparation program for certification as a teacher in a particular field. Find out from the faculty how well their students have done on the content-specific MTEL test. Find out if there are any areas where their students are usually weak, and what recommendations they make to help students succeed. After all, the reason DESE communicates the test results to each program is so that the faculty of the program will address areas where they need to do a better job of preparing their students.
Having all this information leads naturally to the point where you are ready to study for the test because you have a much clearer picture of what to study. The test objectives for your subject area are the best guide to the specific content that you’ll find worth reviewing. Do you study best when you can exchange questions and ideas with others? If your teacher preparation program does not run study groups to help students prepare for the test, think about forming a group that will meet regularly and share responsibility for making sure that each content area is thoroughly reviewed.
It is important to include essay writing in your study time. Since both the comlit and subject area tests have questions that require you to construct a response out of all that you know, and to do so in a relatively short amount of time, writing responses to some open-ended questions will help you feel more confident in the testing situation when you encounter an open response item.
No doubt you are aware of the expense involved in taking a teacher certification exam. (If not, those costs are given on the web site as well.) Although you can retake these tests as many times as you need to, most students want to make every dollar count, pass the test on the first try, get their certificate, and go get a teaching job. If that’s what you want, then take full advantage of all the test preparation resources available. Massachusetts needs teachers who are dedicated to the process of learning – including their own.