State certification tests get tougher for teachers; Board and union risk future shortages to increase qualifications


Maryland toughened its standards for new teachers yesterday, hoping to ensure better-qualified teachers.

As part of its program to improve teacher quality, the Maryland State Board of Education approved high qualifying scores on the new tests it will begin requiring for state certification.

This combination of more demanding tests and the stringent pass rate will likely mean fewer people will be able to get a satisfactory score than on existing tests. That could result in fewer teachers at a time when Maryland, like most states, faces a teacher shortage predicted to worsen in the next few years.

It's a chance Maryland educators seem willing to take.

"We have to ensure that we have quality teachers, even knowing the dilemma is getting more teachers," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "We know having an unqualified teacher in a classroom does not affect a child for one year but for a lifetime."

The board also approved a public comment period for all of its regular meetings, reversing last year's decision.

Though divided 8-to-4 on the public comment question, the board was unanimous in setting the qualifying scores -- 177 out of a possible 190 points on the basic skills tests in math and reading, and 173 out of a possible 190 on the basic writing test. These three tests, known as Praxis I, replace the National Teachers Exam (NTE) tests, which the state has required for teacher certification for at least 10 years.

Maryland has set the second-highest qualifying score of the 21 states giving the math test and the second highest of the 22 states that give the reading tests, said board Vice President Edward Andrews.

Only Virginia has set a higher passing score -- 178.

"This is much higher than our current standards. This is a real success story in trying to keep standards high," said Andrews.

Maryland's pass rate is about 90 percent on the NTE, said Assistant State Superintendent Lawrence Leak. But based on national statistics, the expected success rate on the new tests is about 54 percent on math, 60 percent on reading and 73 percent on writing.

"I hope the pass rate will be higher than that," said Leak, adding that the board's interest in remedial work for those at risk of not passing or who fail is likely to increase the success rate.

To be certified in Maryland, a person must pass these tests, as well as one or more tests in their specific subject areas.

Robert Moore, education reform specialist for the Maryland State Teachers Association, said the new tests were likely to restrict the supply of teachers, "but I think Maryland kids deserve the best." Moore said the union supports the new tests and recommended switching to them three years ago.

The state will continue to accept the previous exam through June 30, 2000, so that those students who have started the certification process with the NTE don't have to switch, Leak said.

The board also formed a committee to work out the details of its new public comment period, which was strongly opposed by board President Walter Sondheim and Andrews. After turning down the same resolution last year, the board decided to have quarterly regional meetings so residents around the state could voice concerns. The first of those meetings will be March 24 in St. Mary's County.

But several members felt the need to offer citizens more access to the board during its monthly meetings. "I don't see any reason why we can't do both," said board member Adrienne L. Ottaviani. "It sends a very positive sign that we believe there can never be too much public involvement."

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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