Effort Meets Resistance
Leaders Say Teacher Certification Test Was Sabotaged
The leaking of test questions, which the American Board
for Certification of Teacher Excellence said led it to cancel a
$1.2 million agreement with the testing company ACT Inc., marks
the latest battle in a long war between the new organization and
several established education groups.
by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, June 10, 2003
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Leaders of an effort backed by the Bush administration to
accelerate and improve teacher training say they have met with
considerable resistance from organizations allied with teachers
unions and education schools, including the sabotage of a
proposed new teacher certification test.
The leaking of test questions, which the American Board for
Certification of Teacher Excellence said led it to cancel a $1.2
million agreement with the testing company ACT Inc., marks the
latest battle in a long war between the new organization and
several established education groups. Those groups dispute the
administration's contention that education schools are not doing
a good job of producing qualified teachers.
Besides trying to develop a new way for college graduates to
become certified teachers, the board wants to award a special
Master Teacher certificate to experienced teachers based on a
measurement of student improvement in their classes. That would
put the board in competition with an organization supported by
teachers unions, the Arlington-based National Board for
Professional Teaching Standards, which grants national
certificates to teachers based on their knowledge and skills, as
assessed by experts.
College graduates generally become teachers by taking additional
courses at an education school, where they receive enough credit
for teacher certification. The reformers, saying that process is
time-consuming and discourages the brightest graduates from
becoming teachers, have proposed to grant certification to
anyone who passes a comprehensive exam, the "Passport to
Most states rely on Praxis, a series of tests designed by the
Educational Testing Service, to determine whether teacher
recruits know enough about their subject matter and teaching
methods to succeed in the classroom. The American Board's
backers have cited research indicating that Praxis reading and
math questions are on an eighth-grade level and Praxis passing
scores set by many states are relatively low.
Reg Weaver, president of the nation's largest teachers union,
the National Education Association, has called the American
Board's efforts to substitute its test for education school
credits "a sham and demeaning to the teaching profession."
Arthur E. Wise, president of the National Council for
Accreditation of Teacher Education, said it is a "simplistic
approach to education."
But the board and its supporters say the test is in tune with
Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige's view that education
schools waste time and money requiring too many courses on
teaching methodology, which can be learned in other ways.
They say groups such as Teach for America, a 10-year-old teacher
recruitment program, have lured some of the brightest new
college graduates into teaching with a promise they will not
have to spend so much time on methodology courses. They contend
that the Passport test would help that effort, with the board
providing research materials that aspiring teachers could study
on their own before taking the Passport test.
In response, David G. Imig, president of the Washington-based
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and
other opponents cite a recent study showing that students taught
by Teach for America teachers do not improve as much as those
instructed by fully certified teachers.
Kathleen Madigan, president of the Washington-based American
Board, said Pennsylvania has agreed to use the Passport test and
that other states are close to doing so. The test will be given
to the first teacher recruits in August, she said.
Madigan said she discovered in March that Imig had obtained
confidential test questions for the Passport to Teaching test
and distributed them without authorization.
Madigan said Imig's actions made the test questions useless and
wiped out six months of work. Supporters of the new test, who
have a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education,
said that although they cannot prove that Imig intended to
hamper their effort, he had told his board that the test was an
attempt "to bypass teacher education."
Imig said he received the test questions from someone working on
the test development project and did no harm because he shared
them only with other professionals who understand the material's
sensitivity. He said that although he has criticized plans for
the Passport test and believes that tests are only one part of
what should be an overall assessment of the capabilities of a
beginning teacher, his association has not taken a position on
Madigan said when Imig first pulled the confidential test
questions out of his briefcase at a conference in Arizona in
March, she asked where he got them and he said they were on the
board's Web site. In a statement released yesterday, the group
called this "a blatantly false claim." Imig said he did not make
such a statement, but he said he did not tell Madigan how he
obtained the test questions.
Former Arizona state school superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan,
chief executive of the Washington-based Education Leaders
Council, a principal backer of the American Board, said that
because so many established organizations have criticized the
Passport test, "it is hard to conclude that there is not some
sort of plan here to try to keep it out of the market."
The board's statement blamed ACT for "a lack of diligence" in
which "the security of the exam was severely compromised." It
said it wrote new test questions with consultants and reached a
new agreement with Promissor, a Houghton Mifflin company, to
field-test the examination items.
In a statement, the Iowa City-based ACT said Passport test
questions "were compromised" by "one or more third parties with
access to the items," but they "represented only 10 percent of
the items ACT had developed" for the American Board. The company
said it had offered to quickly replace them for the board. ACT
rejected the organization's contention that many of the
questions were not rigorous enough for the high standards the
group is trying to set for teachers.