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California Orders Tests for Professionals

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Sacramento, Calif--Educators seeking jobs in California's public schools will face tougher standards after March 1, 1982.

Passage of Assembly Bill 757 last week--with the signature of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., expected later this month--means that all educators hired subsequently must pass a series of state tests before public-school systems can hire them.

Once the new law is working smoothly, observers say, efforts will probably be made to expand its requirements to include all public-school educators in the state.

Voting in both houses of the state legislature was lopsided: 30 to 1 in the Senate and 66 to 7 in the Assembly.

With passage of the bill, according to the Education Commission of the States, California will become the first state in the union to require candidates for school administrative jobs to pass basic-skills tests. It will also become the first state to require that teacher-aides also meet minimum levels of competency.

Highlights of the measure, presented by Gary K. Hart, Democrat of Santa Barbara, a former teacher, include:

A requirement that the California Commission for Teacher Preparation and Licensing withhold the issuance of "any credential, permit, or certificate to any person unless that person demonstrates proficiency in basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills in the English language."

This rule applies to all newly graduated school administrators, counselors, and teacher-candidates seeking their first job, according to the law. It also applies to all current staff members who seek credentials different from the ones they currently hold. But it excludes currently employed California teachers, counselors, and administrators who do not seek to change their status.

A requirement that the state superintendent of public instruction develop an instrument to measure the required skills.

A requirement that no instructional aide receive compensation without "demonstrating proficiency in basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills up to or exceeding that required by the employing district for high-school seniors" to meet graduation standards.

If an aide fails to meet these standards, he or she is given two years to improve skills before a reassessment occurs. If the aide fails again, dismissal follows. The legislation permits exemptions to this rule when a district has special difficulty finding someone qualified to perform unusual jobs, such as helping students who speak exotic languages. This one-year exemption may be extended for two additional one-year periods.

An easing of the test requirements for aides came in the last few days before passage. Acceding to demands from the California School Employees Association, the legislature added an amendment to the bill permitting an aide to avoid the test completely if he or she receives satisfactory evaluation for two consecutive years and if a supervisor vouches for the aide's ability in the required basic skills.

To win support from the California Teachers Association, the legislators dropped a provision to require testing of employed teachers who transfer between districts.

In an earlier version, the measure included establishment of "leadership institutes" to provide in-service training for school and district administrators. But the idea was dropped because of the costs involved. Test fees will cover all costs of implementing the law as finally passed.

Mr. Hart says the new law may serve as an important first step toward legislation that would require all California educators to pass the test. He told a group of education writers, however, that he wants to learn from experience with the law before he seeks to expand the program.

'Signs of Incompetence'

When asked why he wants to test educators, Mr. Hart pointed to what he called "too many signs of teacher incompetence" in recent years. He cited the experiences of the Los Angeles and Lemon Grove school systems with locally developed tests given to prospective teachers.

In Los Angeles, for three consecutive years, at least 13 percent of persons holding a teacher credential and applying for initial employment failed a basic English-usage test. In Lemon Grove, more than 20 percent of prospective teachers and more than 30 percent of prospective aides failed a seventh-grade test for reading and writing and a sixth-grade test for math.

Mr. Hart also cited College Board reports indicating college students going into teaching have regularly scored lower on standardized tests than those going into other fields.

In 1980, for example, college-bound students who said they planned to go into teaching scored 48 points below the average on the sat test in math and 35 points below the average on the verbal part of the test, Mr. Hart said.

Although California becomes a pioneer in competency testing for school administrators and aides under the new law, it follows 16 other states in requiring competency testing for teacher-candidates. They are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

New York has also enacted competency requirements for teacher-candidates, but the legislation does is not scheduled to go into effect until 1984.

Single copies of Assembly Bill 757 may be obtained free of charge by writing to the Legislative Bill Room, State Capitol, Sacramento, Calif., 95814, or by calling (916) 445-2323.

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