Teacher Testing Increases
Congressional Republicans have called for regular testing of teachers across the nation, although they stopped short of proposing that the tests be mandatory. The proposal is part of a broad education bill announced by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R. Miss.) and other Republican leaders in Washington on January 20. Under the testing plan, states could use money they now receive from the Federal Government to assess elementary and secondary school teachers. The money also could be used to reward good teachers with merit pay.
In December, Senate Banking Chairman Alfonse D'Amato (R. NY) called for performance evaluations of public school teachers every five years. In his response to President Clinton's weekly radio address, D'Amato also proposed that teachers be tested for competency in the subjects they teach.
Meanwhile, accompanying the increased focus on student testing in the schools, some states are rushing to test prospective and currently employed teachers. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support the claim that standardized tests predict who will be a good teacher.
North Carolina's Board of Education is implementing a new basic skills competency test for teachers at low-performing schools. Under North Carolina's ABCs plan, school performance on state achievement tests is measured annually against past performance. "Low-performing" schools are those that fail to meet the state's expected growth rate for student achievement and have more than half of their students performing below grade level.
Teachers at the state s bottom 15 schools on this index will have to take the test next spring. Beginning in 1999-2000 the test will be required of all teachers at schools designated "low-performing."
Next year, the state plans to require teachers to take content-knowledge exams in addition to the basic skills test, according to the state s Department of Public Instruction. Some recent graduates of schools of education will be exempted because they have already taken similar exams.
Teachers will get three chances to pass the basic skills test, but those who fail three times will be fired. This "competency" test is the same one that is currently administered to teachers in California. Results there make it clear that the test will lead to the dismissal of a disproportionate number of minority teachers (see Examiner, ?????).
A federal judge has rejected a request by Alabama's State Board of Education to alter a 1985 settlement in which the state agreed to create a new testing system for aspiring schoolteachers that would ensure white and black applicants passed at about the same rate (see Examiner, Spring 1987). Alabama officials wanted the order modified so that the state could give new applicants the NTE (formerly, the National Teachers Exam) or an equivalent test.
Under a 1995 state law, new college graduates who wish to teach in Alabama must pass the examination starting in 2001. Studies of earlier versions of the NTE showed passage rates of 40 to 50 percent for African Americans and Latinos compared to rates of 80 percent for white teacher candidates (Examiner, Winter 1989).
In his ruling, Judge Myron Thompson noted that state officials had never tried to develop a test that would meet the terms of the 1985 settlement, which called for creating a test that would guarantee the failure rate of black applicants to be no more than five percentage points higher than that of white applicants. The agreement was part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by black applicants who charged that a test given by Alabama in the early 1980s was biased. State officials plan to appeal the ruling.
Education Commissioner Richard Mills has proposed a plan under which teaching candidates would be required to take three standardized tests, rather than the current two, before receiving their initi licenses. In addition to the Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST), which is already under attack in a federal court suit charging racial bias, and the Assessment of Teaching Skills-Written (ATS-W), teaching candidates would have to take a predominantly multiple-choice Content Specialty Test (CST).
Newly licensed teachers would then have nine years to prepare for the next certificate level (advanced professional), two years more than is allowed under the current model. To attain that certificate, teachers would be required to pass an Advanced Content Specialty Test and an Advanced Assessment of Teaching Skills. The latter would be conducted by a principal and two external peers and would include portfolio assessment, teaching observations, diagnostic sessions and career growth plans. In order to keep their licenses, teachers would have to be regularly evaluated by a similar panel.
The State Board of Regents will vote on Commissioner Mills plan in March 1998.
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