The new ABE teacher's license has two levels, provisional and professional. The main requirements of the provisional level are a bachelor's or master's degree and passing scores on the Communication and Literacy Skills test of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL). The provisional license might come in handy for teachers who need a Mass. educator's license for employment, e.g., with public school programs or correctional facilities. After getting the provisional license, the teacher has five years in which to get the professional license.
The Communication and Literacy Skills subtests are two separate tests—reading and writing—that are given at the same time and at various test locations, about four times a year. Portions of the tests are multiple choice (using fill-in-the-bubble forms) and actual written response (with space provided in the test booklet). You are given four hours to complete the tests. The total application cost is $80.00, and more if you apply for a certain test during its additional "late registration" period. You can download a copy of the Registration Bulletin from www.doe.mass.edu/mtel. At the same site, you will find information on the tests and sample questions (the same that you would receive in paper form if you sent in $8.00 to order a test prep booklet).
In my opinion, the tests are looking for a reasonable level of competency, not total mastery of the English language. While the ABE license was being developed, members of the MATSOL board were given permission to review sample questions and concluded that they did not discriminate against non-native English speakers.
Here are some observations and tips to demystify the tests and to help you pass them.
You are asked to read several passages of roughly 750 words and then answer several multiple-choice (MC) questions about each. The questions deal with main idea, writer's purpose, author's assumptions, and so forth. Expect to find a chart or table embedded in one or two passages, to check your ability to understand and draw conclusions from graphics. You are asked for definitions of vocabulary too, but I seem to remember these were MC also. Personally, I did not find the vocabulary beyond the usual magazine and newspaper range.
There are several parts to this test, which taken together are meant to test your skills in accuracy of expression, conciseness, organization, sentence structure, usage, and grammar and mechanics.
Written Summary: For this section, you are given a passage of about 600 words and asked to write a one-paragraph summary with a word limit (I can't remember exactly how many, but I think it was around 150 words). The passage I was given was disorganized and lacked focus, so I tried to correct for that in my summary. That decision was a mistake, test-taking wise, because I think the scorers read my "creative solution" as simply not completely understanding the passage. I would advise, therefore, that if you're given a passage (as I was) where the main idea is not very clear, just do your best but keep your approach simple and straightforward.
Writing Composition: For this section, you are asked to write a short essay in support of or against a stated issue (e.g., Should there be a
federal tax on gasoline?). Again, I can't remember the limit, but I do recall that my two pages of normal-size handwriting fulfilled the limit. I passed this portion easily by falling back on the time-honored "five-paragraph essay" format: introductory paragraph with a thesis statement that lists three points I will cover; three paragraphs developing each of those points, in order; and a final summary paragraph with a bit of projection-into-the-future thrown in.
Grammar and Usage: This is a multi-part section, which begins by asking for written definitions for half-a-dozen grammatical terms, such as "preposition" or "noun." Luckily, I've done lots of teaching of expository writing, so I did not find this section difficult. Robert Allison, a teacher in Corrections, advises that test-takers "bone up" a bit by reading through a common grammar handbook. That strategy worked well for him.
In another section, you are asked to read a few sentences with grammar and usage errors and then rewrite them in a correct form. Most of you will find the errors fairly apparent, and evidently there is some flexibility on how you can correct for them.
In another section, you'll be given short passages that contain grammatical, usage, or structural errors and asked to choose among the best MC entries for correcting specific problems. I found that the best options stood out fairly strongly from the other choices given.
Finally, you'll be asked to do a bit of dictation. A paragraph of about 150 words will be broadcast via audiotape, and you'll be asked to write it down. You'll need to make choices about spelling, punctuation, and capitalization as you write. There's no need to worry about missing any of the passage, or getting too rushed to think, because it's played three times, from a very slow version read in sections with lots of pauses, to a final read- through.
If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.
Carey Reid is a staff development specialist at the SABES Central Resource Center. His job is to help practitioners obtain the ABE teacher's license. He can be reached by phone at 617-482-9485 or
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org