For many college and graduate students hoping to become K-12 teachers, Praxis tests are among their most formidable obstacles. Administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), these examinations in pedagogy and subject content are typically required for licensure in 47 states and sometimes take numerous attempts for aspiring teachers to pass. But ETS recently announced a potential remedy: Praxis Learning Paths, an online asynchronous test prep program.
Developed in partnership with University Instructors (UI), a company that recruits and tutors teaching candidates, Praxis Learning Paths is structured and organized similarly to many of the courses available on Khan Academy. It begins with a diagnostic test that allows the content to be personalized to the user’s strengths and weaknesses, and features skill checks, unit tests, and a full-length timed practice test to guide the user further.
This ability to customize the material is the program’s strength, according to Dr. Claudine Keenan, Dean of Education at Stockton University. “Personalizing what candidates need to learn based on how they respond to sample test questions is a step in the right direction,” she said. “I’m very optimistic that ETS can adjust learning materials to candidate readiness.”
The lessons from Praxis Learning Path that Diverse tried were also interactive, with applets that allowed the user to manipulate shapes to better understand surface area. There were also step-by-step explanations of practice problems. Finally, there was “Stellar,” a cartoon bot assistant, who offered help in understanding the program’s functions, encouragement, and inducements to purchase add-on packages of tutoring from UI.
The first offering available on Praxis Learning Paths is an Elementary Mathematics course, providing prep for the Elementary Education: Multiple Subjects Math Subtest and other Praxis elementary math tests. According to Andrew Feller, director of University Instructors, an elementary exam was the place where ETS and UI believed that they could have the most initial impact.
“It’s a very common test,” said Feller. “[Teachers for] up to six grades have to take an elementary exam versus maybe one grade for biology.” Math was also a logical subtest to choose.
“Mathematics is a stumbling block for a lot people,” said Feller. “They might not have taken math since high school.” ETS and UI plan to build out the remaining subtests for Elementary Education over the next fiscal year before expanding to other Praxis exams.
Feller cited high-minded ideals when asked about ETS and UI’s motivations for developing Praxis Learning Paths.
“Our goal is to alleviate the national teaching shortage,” he said. “And ultimately, one of our mission statements is to diversify the teacher pipeline starting in elementary education.”
Building that pipeline is particularly important for Black men. Earlier this year, ETS held a two-part symposium to strategize on how best to recruit and retain Black males into the classroom.
The program’s price point may prove problematic. At $99.99 for 180 days of access, Praxis Learning Paths is cheaper than most one-on-one tutoring, but is more expensive than other online courses, which tend to cost between $55 and $65, and most test prep books, which typically cost between $40 and $45.
Still, Feller believes that Praxis Learning Paths is superior to these options.
“We took a lot of time to be deliberate about the production value of this product to make it as engaging and interactive as possible,” he said. “It’s adaptive and self-paced. It can meet any learner at any stage in their knowledge and skills. There are videos, animations, interactives. We engage different learning styles, whether it’s visual, auditory, hands-on. You can physically move variables to different sides of the equation.”
There are also plans to offer financial aid to those who need it, including offering assistance in paying for the program to those who have demonstrated need based on FAFSA forms and Pell Grants, as well as potentially partnering with various minority-serving institutions, including HBCUs. However, these plans are not yet finalized.
“I think we’ll have a lot more to announce in January,” said Feller.