Below average

Elementary teachers and would-be administrators seeking a master’s degree have below average GRE scores, notes Teacher Quality Bulletin.

Out of the 50 intended graduate majors ETS collected data on, seven of the lowest scoring 10 majors on the list are education fields. Only one field — social work — scored lower.

The most popular choice of graduate degrees for teachers with aspirations for school or district leadership is a degree in education administration. The average GRE score was 948, comparing poorly with the national average score of 1058 for all fields of study.

Teachers pursuing degrees in early childhood (915) came in second to last on the list, slightly losing to special education (933), student counseling (927) and elementary (968).

By contrast, teachers specializing in secondary education averaged 1063, slightly better than the national average.

About Joanne


  1. Joanne,

    Without reporting the statistical significance of these differences in scores, your more critical readers have a pretty difficult time making any sense of this data beyond the sensationalistic, impressionistic effect that the writers of the article seem to intend.

    I’m sure that you know, also, that GRE scores do not predict very well for people who are more than a few years out of college, as many teachers who are looking to move into administration would be. Even ETS is clear about this drop in predictive value. People who are still in college are still in “test culture” mode and immersed in many of the academic-specific content that the GRE tests. People who are out in the workforce have much more complex challenges to tackle in their daily lives.

    This information is so easily accessible, it’s surprising that reporters who are trying to make some case about GRE scores don’t mention it.

    It’s certainly also the case at least in some programs, that educators with expertise in psychometrics are pretty clear that the GRE has little to do with one’s eventual skill as a school administrator. These programs may well convey to applicants that even though their university requires the exam, scores will not be weighed heavily in admissions decisions. Applicants then, may well be spending their evenings and weekends doing lesson planning and grading instead of attending test prep classes (paid for by their parents) like all of those 21 old college seniors majoring in biology or French.

    In short, what difference do these differences really make?

  2. The real question is why do they require the GRE if they aren’t going to use it at all? I prepare students for the GRE, and for all but the most elite schools, the score is generally irrelevant.

    That study, btw, omits GRE scores by race. Average GRE scores by race. The black means are 100 points lower than white. I’m pretty sure that the majority of blacks in grad school are there for an MA in education.

    Recall that the GRE tests the same subject matter as the SAT. Of course, that’s why the CBEST is so easy.

  3. Jane..”GRE has little to do with one’s eventual skill as a school administrator” draw this conclusion, one would have to measure “skill as school administrators” for a substantial sample.

    How was this measurement done?

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Skill as a school administrator is never done to my knowledge.

  5. Skill as a school administrator is never done to my knowledge.

    You need to get out more.

  6. Hello David,

    The GRE is not intended to predict professional success, as I’m sure you know, so I don’t think this data exists. The GRE is intended to predict success in graduate school (not to test “subject matter”, Cal), and if can’t serve that purpose for programs uniquely filled with returning students, programs would fairly conclude that they had little to learn about applicants from their scores.

    You can easily google to find the predictive value of the GRE across academic areas. It is quite low for most fields. And given the time away from school that most teachers would have experienced — and ETS’s own advice that scores be used with particular caution for those whose graduate work is not contiguous with undergraduate work — it makes perfect sense that Administration programs would weigh other things more heavily in admissions decisions and that applicants would use their time preparing their applications accordingly.

    Does that makes sense? I was making a logical argument based on the assumption that people in ed schools do know a fair amount about the limitations of test scores (or at least, that they can read the very ETS material that this original article linked to!)

    Cal: Graduate school application processes are often university-wide, and if microbiology and Classic Languages and Marine Sciences lobby heavily to require the GRE to weed out their thousands of applicants, Ed Schools can’t always buck that and may have to require the GRE, too. But schools can (and do) weigh the various parts of the application differently.

    So here’s what we know:

    *Lower test scores (but no data on the statistical significance of those differences. Come on people: This is freshman stats we’re talking about here– you can’t infer anything without running those analyses).

    *ETS’ own advice that the GRE scores should be interpreted cautiously for exactly the type of applicant that would be disproportionately likely to apply to a Ed. Admin program.

    We certainly don’t know from GRE scores that people going into the principalship are generally dolts, as the article that Joanne cites seems to want us to infer.

  7. I think I’d agree with Jane that “We certainly don’t know from GRE scores that people going into the principalship are generally dolts,” but, we can infer it from looking at the state of most schools.

    I’ve known some truly outstanding school administrators, but fewer and fewer in recent years. We are now getting consummate, but unthinking, bureaucrats, dedicated to the shrine of zero-tolerance and political correctness.

  8. Bill wrote:

    “We certainly don’t know from GRE scores that people going into the principalship are generally dolts,” but, we can infer it from looking at the state of most schools.

    That’s assuming that doing a good job is only reasonably difficult and that there’s some reward, other then feeling good, for doing a good job.

  9. I’m always amazed (but not shocked) that educators are not embarrased by these very low scores. Excuses abound but the fact is that most of the scores hover around the 25th percentile.

  10. Don’t the results kind of make sense though? Did you think that graduate students in elementary ed would rival graduate engineering students in GRE scores?

    Most states pay teachers more for every additional degree so it makes sense for every one of them to go to graduate school. In other fields, graduate students are more likely to be self selected to be the brighter people in those fields, right?

  11. NDC,

    On the one hand, I didn’t expect that the GRE scores of graduate el ed students would rival graduate engineering students. On the other hand, I don’t want graduate el ed students to score at the 25th percentile in verbal and math skills.

    Another point about the GRE scores: these are the scores of the students who have not left the field of education. Shouldn’t they (like the engineering students) be the “brighter” people in the education field? Or, is the statistic I read years ago correct–that is, the teachers with the highest ACT/SAT scores tend to leave the field in greater numbers within five years of starting their first job?


  12. Richard Brandshaft says:

    In the early 1960s, the principal of my brother’s high school was known as “The Pope.” It was not a compliment.

    That said, assuming the number of incompetent principals is increasing, Ms. Jacobs put her finger on an obvious reason long ago: In my distant youth, the choices for women were housewife, nurse, secretary, or teacher. (Although there were always a few who broke free of such expectations.) The last generation of women with such restricted choices is retiring. (I am 65. “The Feminine Mystique” was published the year I graduated college.) If we want good administrators, we will have to acknowledge those market forces (which conservatives forget when is inconvenient for them) and pay administrators enough to attract good ones.

  13. Anon,

    Because you can get an automatic pay raise for going back for the degree, I think a much higher percentage of education folks go back to get them than in other fields where your pay in controlled by your performance on the jobs rather than the rigid highest degree and years of experience formula for education.

    The only way to make more money in ed. is to go back to school, so even the dumbest folks are going to try to do it and they will deflate the scores compared to other fields. (I really don’t think that people in other fields likely to score at the 25% have any reason to go back to school. Do you?)

    Notice some of the other lower score fields and they too seem to have some form of built-in pay raises for advanced degrees because they are going to be some form of civil servant, I seems to me. Masters of Social Work, Public Administration, etc.

    I would love to see the studies about intelligence and who stays and who goes. I’ve seen one summary of a study reporting what you remember: the brighter folks leave. I’ve seen one study that said it was more complicated than that: it wasn’t the individual teachers intelligence that mattered as much as his or her intelligence relative to the other employees at his or her school.

    (Nobody likes to work with people they recognize to be idiots, but smart teachers in departments with other smart teachers didn’t leave at any faster a rate that dumb ones in dumb departments.)

    But the most study was the one that reported teacher intelligence as one of the top predictors of student achievement. It makes sense that it would be, but how do you draw the people with the most other options into the field at a higher rate than the people with fewer other options? I don’t think a pay scale based on IQ would go over well although I’d certainly prefer it to one that pretends I’m going to learn anything worth knowing getting an Ed.D. (Well, you might learn something if you picked a good research topic.)

  14. Anon,

    Agree with what you say. But, I would like to see the system use test scores–not IQ, but SAT or ACT–as a benchmark to enter a teacher education program. And GRE scores should be used to determine whether one can enter a graduate education program. The problem is not the tests. Tests are inanimate objects–they only tell you the level of your skills compared to a specific population. The problem is that the “cut scores” on tests for teacher education programs are set so low. For example, at my college, the cut scores on Praxis I (Reading, Writing, Math) to get into the teacher ed program are set at or below the 25th percentile. In my state, the Praxis II cut scores are so low that 96% of teachers pass the test. At my college, the teacher ed dept discontinued the use of the GRE for the graduate program because so many teachers could not meet the minimum scores of 400 Verbal, 425 Math. In my view, prospective and current teachers should be held to a standard that is in at least the middle of the average range on basic reading, writing, and math tests.


  15. Anon2,

    I’d like to see higher scores used too, but the question is who would teach to take the place of the current group of people in the field who can’t do better than those low scores? If we had an incredible supply of teachers, it makes sense to raise the standards, but that’s not what I tend to see.

  16. NDC,

    True enough. But, if the standards are not raised, then the status quo continues. Teachers with ACT scores of 17 and SAT scores of 850. Teachers who don’t read, write, and do math well enough themselves to teach it to others. The worst part, of course, is that these same teachers with low test scores are “educated” in education departments that are populated with “professors” who themselves have low ACT, SAT, and GRE scores. These are the same instructors who teach these prospective teachers that there is no objective truth or objective knowledge and tell them that they should not teach content. Even if we could make a “decent” teacher from a student with an ACT of 17 and a GRE of 900, it will not happen in the education schools, those places that Sandra Stotsky calls (correctly) the “shame of the nation.”


  17. Anonymous says:


    What you wrote about being pretty sure the majority of blacks in graduate school are there for an MA in education is simply ignorant and prejudiced. If you had said that many blacks in grad school were there for an MA in education, I would not have commented.

    Have you met all, or the majority of the roughly 37 million blacks in the U.S? I know you haven’t. So, how the hell can you be “pretty sure”? How many black people with aspirations for grad school do you know? As a matter of fact, how many blacks do you know, period?

    Furthermore, how DARE you or anybody else put down a group of people who are willing to do what so many are not? Not too many are willing to teach in a school in the middle of a black ghetto, or at a school in a rural, majority black area. But still, the children need to be educated, don’t they? There are severe teacher shortages in these areas. So, who is going to teach these children? I’ll tell you, it’s those who are WILLING.

    The teaching profession has historically been a strong part of black American culture, due to our history in the U.S., and whether or not there was a Praxis or a GRE, blacks would still be pursuing teaching degrees and going to teach in places members of other ethnic groups wouldn’t consider.

    The notion that black teachers pursue graduate degrees JUST to get pay raises is simply bull. Again, you – and others who think like you – are prejudiced. You need to examine that. At any rate, many school districts are now REQUIRING all teachers to have a master’s degree. For new teachers, many have to do it within 2 years of being hired, so it’s not just about greed.

    Don’t speak on things you know nothing about, and black people is one of those topics. Just say no, because to do otherwise makes you look stupid.

    Lastly, to everyone else. None of you called out Cal on his blatantly prejudiced and ignorant remarks about blacks and the GRE. Silence signifies agreement, so by not speaking up, you showed your true colors despite any claims any of you make about not being prejudiced. Examine that. I am disgusted by you all.