New classes aimed at reading teachers set to begin in state; Examination to test instruction skills expected by next year


Maryland's colleges, universities and school systems should have new classes by the end of 2000 that will better prepare teachers for reading instruction, state educators announced last week.

The state also expects to have an exam prepared by Educational Testing Service and in place by next school year for experienced teachers who want to demonstrate their reading instruction skills by means of a written test, rather than taking the newly developed classes.

The effort to bolster teacher preparation is one of the key steps taken by the state during the past two years as it has sought to improve stagnant reading achievement among Maryland students. State educators updated the state school board on the plans Tuesday.

In July 1998, the board toughened reading course requirements by making all aspiring elementary school teachers pass four courses in reading and all aspiring middle school teachers pass two courses. The state previously required only one reading course, although many colleges required more.

The changes also will affect the 104,000 people who hold teacher certifications in Maryland when they seek to renew their certification -- including the 50,000 who teach in the state's public schools -- by requiring them to take the new courses, show they have taken comparable classes or demonstrate mastery of the skills through the new exam.

"This is one of the most important things we've done," said state board President Edward Andrews.

According to Virginia H. Pilato, chief of the state Education Department's program approval and assessment branch, all but one of Maryland's 22 universities have submitted revised plans for classes on reading instruction to state educators for their approval, as have 10 of the state's 16 community colleges and the University of Delaware, which graduates many teachers who get jobs in Maryland.

A panel of state and local educators has reviewed 100 of the 260 courses submitted for approval under the new reading requirements -- accepting 50, sending back 25 for minor revisions and rejecting the rest for being "old courses, barely dressed up, barely changed to meet the requirements," Pilato said.

"We have said, 'Don't let courses go through without brain research. Don't let in a course that is slanted one way or the other. Make sure there is evidence of phonics, of how to teach it systematically and of phonemic awareness,' " Pilato said.

The state Education Department is working with local school systems to develop training classes that will be given by school systems for teachers to meet the requirements.

For certified teachers who want to prove their skills through an exam, the new test is expected to be two hours -- 60 minutes of multiple-choice questions and 60 minutes of longer responses to case-study questions, said Lawrence E. Leak, assistant state superintendent for certification and accreditation.

The state board likely will be asked to set a passing score for the exam in the fall, Leak said.

With research continuing, state educators pledged to continue to review how teachers should learn to teach reading.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she wants to have a panel of educators reconvene every two years to look at the latest research and determine whether the training requirements need to be changed to meet it.

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