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 Article of Interest - General Education Reform

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Education 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 Teaching."

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 the issue.

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.


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