teachers in the Philippines

[OPINION] The LET and problems with teacher training quality

Edilberto De Jesus
[OPINION] The LET and problems with teacher training quality

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Can we rely on LET scores to assure us that we are deploying high-quality teachers?'

Philippine Business for Education (PBED) has done the country a service. Building on Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) research, PBED analyzed 12 years of Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) records. Its conclusion: since 2010, 56% of teacher education schools scored below average passing rates in the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET). 

Expect a torrent of furious demands for investigation and dire threats from politicians, who will be predictably outraged at its exposure of the long-term deterioration in the quality of teacher training in the country, as measured by LET performance. Many breasts should be sore after the beating that those implicated in this decline, politicians not excluded, should publicly inflict on themselves, if they admit to their share in the culpability. The revelation will also herald a field day for expert consultants, public and private, who will now compete to propose creative, comprehensive, evidence-based (choose additional adjectives) curricular reforms, at a modest fee, to solve the problem.

I have not yet read the report myself. But the front-page media coverage did not measurably raise the blood pressure of this officially old, hypertensive person. International development agencies have been documenting the LET problem for 25 years or so. Where should we begin the review of this dismal history? The track record of teacher education institutions unable to produce graduates who can pass the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET)? Politicians who protect these institutions? Regulatory agencies?  

For the past nearly 50 years, educators have been expressing their concern about a basic, prejudicial question no curricular reform can resolve: how “good” is the LET? How well does it measure the knowledge and skills that teachers need, so they can more effectively educate our children? We might reasonably believe that those who fail the LET will probably not enjoy resounding success as a teacher. But can we be confident that someone who does well in the LET will perform equally well teaching our children in the classroom? Can we rely on LET scores to assure us that we are deploying high-quality teachers?

Until this time, I am not aware of any serious study of this annual high-stakes test that competes with the bar exam for the highest mortality rate but covers many tens of thousands more college graduates. It has remained basically a black box that even DepEd secretaries serving full terms have been unable to pry open. Only masochists delighting in experiencing pain will continue, decade after decade, to keep banging their heads against a closed molave door — not when both the Department and the private schools are perennially facing formidable, immediate threats. And when continued questioning risks the displeasure and possible retribution from established authorities. So, we agree to assume or pretend, all available evidence to the contrary and now further documented and disputed by PBEd research, that our evaluation system is protecting the quality of the education our schools offer.

Curricular reforms, even (or especially) those tightly structured to build upon each other to achieve cumulative benefits year to year, collide against unyielding obstacles. First, they take too long to implement, with the accompanying risk that time and technology, by the time the process is complete, will have rendered the intended benefits obsolete. Second, the planned curricula must translate to the taught curricula in the classroom; but the success of the implementation will depend on the same teachers, who likely had little participation in the planning process and probably had inadequate in-service training to deliver the new curricula. Third, the architects and administrators of the reform at the top of the food chain are also unlikely to remain in control to drive the long change process to a successful conclusion.

Finally, granting the correctness and the coherence of the reforms and a seamless implementation process, the effort runs against the reality of the ultimate evaluation hurdle: the LET itself. Will the test accommodate the standards of the new curricula? Has it in the past done so, with earlier curricular reforms? Perhaps. But I think the honest answer is we just don’t know.  

In other countries that demonstrate exemplary basic education performance, like Singapore, prospective teachers do not need to go through a government licensure examination as a requirement for a teaching job. In our case, an aspiring teacher’s employment in a basic education school depends on a passing LET grade. Failure can negate four years of college and probably additional post-graduate LET review classes. Some 30% of the examinees end up taking a second test and many never succeed in obtaining this passport to a teaching job. At the same time, even professionals with advanced degrees in the arts and sciences cannot teach basic education subjects in their areas without a LET certificate or additional courses in education.

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What is tested gets done. The new knowledge or skills the reformed curricula will require may be relevant to passing the LET. Or not. But the test will threaten to trump the learning. The more serious danger: teachers, whose evaluation will inevitably be affected by the record of their students in passing LET, will teach to the test.  

Perhaps, EDCOM II, over 30 years after EDCOM I, will finally reveal what is in the LET black box and allow us to determine the trash we can burn and the treasures we can burnish. – Rappler.com

Edilberto de Jesus is a senior research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government.

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