Essay Three Leaks in the Massachusetts Teacher Pipeline
An Essay for the Learning Curve
Melanie Rucinski
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Evidence demonstrating the benefits of having teachers of the same race or ethnicity for students of color has prompted several states to pass legislation to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the K–12 teacher workforce. In Massachusetts, as is true nationally, teachers are less racially and ethnically diverse than students. To address this disparity, Massachusetts lawmakers have proposed legislation targeting the shortage of teachers of color. The proposed legislation has two main components. First, it will create an alternative certification pathway that accounts for such measures as out-of-state certification, graduate degrees, and portfolio measures as substitutes for existing certification test requirements. Second, the legislation requires districts to set educator diversity goals and would establish a grant program to support schools and districts in establishing new teacher diversity initiatives. In addition to the proposed legislation, the state’s 2023 budget includes $15 million in scholarships and loan forgiveness for prospective and current teachers.

Research shows that some of the gap in racial and ethnic diversity between teachers and students can be attributed to “leaks” in the teacher pipeline, or places where teachers of color are less likely than White teachers to persist. In Massachusetts, three of those leaks are certification test passing, college graduation among certification test takers, and licensure among candidates who pass the certification test. Targeting racial and ethnic disparities at each of these stages could substantially increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the teacher workforce in Massachusetts. Does the proposed legislation meaningfully address these leaks in the pipeline?

Key Findings

In analyzing data about teaching candidates who took the Communications and Literacy Skills Test (CLST), the Massachusetts teacher certification test, findings show the following:

Certification test passing:

  • Overall, around 70 percent of teaching candidates pass their certification test on the first try. White and Asian candidates have similar first-time pass rates of 72 percent and 70 percent, respectively, but only 56 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latino teaching candidates pass on their first attempt.
  • Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian test takers are all less likely than White test takers to retake the test if they fail on the first try. The racial gap in retaking is largest for Black teaching candidates, who are more than 10 percentage points less likely than White candidates to retake if they fail the first time.
  • Racial and ethnic gaps in first-time test performance and in retaking result in the loss of more than 10 percent of Asian candidates and 20 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latino candidates at this first step in the certification pipeline: while 92 percent of White candidates ultimately pass the CLST, only 87 percent of Asian test takers, 77 percent of Black test takers, and 80 percent of Hispanic/Latino test takers ultimately pass.

College graduation:

  • Students can take the CLST before finishing their degree to indicate an intertest in teaching. College graduation rates among candidates who do not have a college degree when they pass the test differ dramatically by race and ethnicity: 65 percent of White teaching candidates who pass the CLST before earning a college degree ultimately earn a four-year degree, compared with 56 percent of Asian candidates and only 41 percent and 36 percent of Hispanic/Latino and Black candidates, respectively. Racial and ethnic gaps in college graduation among those who pass the CLST mirror gaps within the full population of four-year enrollees.


  • In addition to taking the CLST, first-time teaching candidates must also pass one or more subject tests and complete a state-approved teacher preparation program. Among candidates who pass the CLST, 74 percent of White candidates earn a teaching license, but only 67 percent of Asian candidates and 61 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latino candidates ultimately earn a license.
  • The additional required subject tests act as a barrier to candidates of all races and ethnicities, but they particularly affect Black and Hispanic/Latino teaching candidates: only 63 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latino candidates who pass the CLST also pass any subject tests, compared with 75 percent of White and Asian candidates. Among those who do pass at least one subject test, 83 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latino candidates earn a license, compared with 84 percent of Asian candidates and 88 percent of White candidates.


Looking at the two components of the proposed Massachusetts legislation—expanding alternative routes to certification and providing support to schools and districts for teacher diversity initiatives—expanding pathways could be the stronger approach to addressing the licensure and certification test passing pipeline leaks. Research shows that certification test scores in Massachusetts are not strongly predictive of teacher quality. And Massachusetts teaching candidates who earned emergency licenses (which had no certification test requirement) during the COVID-19 pandemic were more than twice as likely to be Black or Hispanic/Latino as their peers licensed through traditional pathways. The lack of connection between the certification test scores and teacher quality and the higher presence of Black and Hispanic/Latino candidates in this alternate path suggest that reexamining the role of certification tests in teacher licensure might yield significant benefits for students at minimal cost.

Providing support to districts to improve diversity initiatives in their schools could also address the pipeline leaks, but it is not a sufficient solution by itself. Even if all CLST takers of color were retained to the point of licensure, licensed teaching candidates in the state would remain mostly White. This suggests the necessity of earlier interventions to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of CLST takers, which could include “Grow Your Own” programs that create pathways beginning in K–12 for students to become teachers in their home district or state or district supports for paraprofessionals and other school staff members to become certified teachers.

Closing the gap in racial and ethnic diversity between students and teachers in Massachusetts will not be easy. But the proposed legislation may lead to some progress: the expansion of alternative certification can address racial and ethnic gaps in passing the CLST and earning a license, while college tuition scholarships for prospective teachers may reduce racial and ethnic gaps in college graduation, and grants to districts can help start students on the teacher pipeline and support them through the certification process.

Additional Resources

Research Areas Education
Tags K-12 education Racial equity in education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy
States Massachusetts