LOOK FOR Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to propose streamlining teacher licensing regulations, the better to ease what is becoming a crisis in teacher supply in the Free State.
Grasmick told a breakfast meeting of the Council for American Private Education on Friday that some Maryland teacher certification regulations are "antiquated" and that they discourage students who study education from entering the profession.
Of the 2,500 teachers trained in Maryland each year, she said, only about 1,500 enter the profession. Alternative routes to teaching such as the Resident Teacher Program and Teach for America are producing only a trickle of new teachers. These programs, which allow liberal arts graduates, career changers and others to go into the classroom immediately and take education courses while on the job, have been resisted by the education establishment and teachers unions.
Grasmick's task is a tricky one. She doesn't want to relax standards, but she knows the teacher shortage is reaching crisis proportions as thousands of working teachers -- about 52 percent of the state's teaching force -- become eligible for retirement by 2003.
The superintendent also has to get approval for any changes from a little-known body, the Professional Standards in Teacher Education Board.
While Maryland education schools might not be producing enough teachers to fill the gap, there seems little doubt about their quality. For the first time, Title II of the federal Higher Education Act requires schools to publish their graduates' scores on teacher licensing tests.
Maryland scores are in, and they show a mixed but generally favorable picture. The colleges' passing rates in the 1999-2000 school year ranged from 59 percent at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore to 100 percent at Villa Julie College in Baltimore County, St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland and Coppin State College in Baltimore.
Towson University, the state's largest teacher education school with about 500 graduates each year, had a 95 percent passing rate, as did the University of Maryland, College Park with 369 graduates.
The Johns Hopkins University, with 112 graduates, had a 99 percent passing rate, while Western Maryland College, with 115 graduates, had a 77 percent rate. The school is disputing the figure.
Maryland is one of 35 states that require newly minted teachers to pass licensing tests that go by the name of Praxis, which are products of the Educational Testing Service, the same group that give us the SAT. There are two sets of teacher licensing tests -- Praxis I, an "academic skills assessment" that measures basic reading, writing and math skills; and Praxis II, a set of subject-matter tests. Math teachers, for example, have to demonstrate mastery of math and prove in another test that they understand good teaching principles.
Maryland's qualifying scores -- those the state requires for passing the Praxis exams -- are among the highest in the nation, says Lawrence E. Leak, assistant state superintendent for certification. For example, he says, 95 percent of Maryland graduates passed the early childhood education test last year. On that test, only 80 percent of teacher graduates nationwide would have qualified to teach here using Maryland's cutoff score.
But this isn't a bar exam or a test determining entry to medical school. Praxis I tests at a ninth- to 10th-grade level of difficulty. Towson and several other schools require would-be teachers to pass it in order to major in education.
Praxis II is a bit more difficult, testing at roughly the level of a college sophomore. But let readers be the judges. Here are four sample questions from a Praxis II test for elementary teachers:
1) According to research, which of the following is the single most important home-based activity for preschool children in building the knowledge required for children's eventual success in reading?(A) children's memorizing nursery rhymes(B) families' talking about school(C) parents' reading aloud to children(D) parents' teaching the alphabet
2) Historically, India's society has been organized into hierarchical groups known as:(A) tribes(B) castes(C) clans(D) denominations
3) Which of the following is the broadest category in the biological taxonomy?(A) kingdom(B) order(C) genus(D) species
4) Which of the following is equal to 8 to the fourth power?(A) 4,032(B) 4,064(C) 4,096(D) 4,128
The answers are C, B, A and C.