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Reliance on Tests May Discourage Blacks From Teaching

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Lexington, Ky--In response to pressure from state legislatures, departments of education, and other groups to improve the quality of teachers, increasing numbers of education schools are requiring students to take standardized tests both to get into and out of teacher-training programs and to earn certification.

Some educators worry, however, about the impact of the changing requirements on aspiring minority teacher-candidates.

They argue that minority students--who in recent years have been encouraged to enter the teaching field, but who often score lower on standardized tests than their white counterparts--could well find teaching a more difficult profession to enter.

This fear surfaced here last week as about 100 legislative leaders from 14 southern states were presented with a 25-point program for upgrading the quality of education within the region.

The reform program was prepared by a task force of educators, legislators, and other public officials under the aegis of the Southern Regional Education Board (sreb), the nation's oldest consortium of states dealing with educational matters.

John A. Peoples Jr., president of Mississippi's Jackson State University and a task-force member, cautioned that too rigid a reliance on test scores could eliminate many blacks who otherwise might eventually become good teachers.

Mr. Peoples noted that some southern states are using American College Testing Program (act) scores of 16 and 17 as the cutoff points for entry into teacher-education programs. But 80 percent of black students score below that level, he said.

Four southern states--Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee--have cutoffs within this range. However, Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee also use combined Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, with a 760-to-780 cutoff in Alabama and a cutoff of 835 in Florida and Tennessee.

Five of the 14 sreb-member states now have some form of required testing for entry into teacher-education programs and several other states are either studying them or plan to initiate them soon.

Only two states, Maryland and Kentucky, do not require some kind of exit examination for certification of new teachers, according to Eva Galambos, an sreb research associate.

Mr. Peoples and several black lawmakers interviewed here agreed that test scores should be considered for admission into teacher-education programs. But they said that the schools have some responsibility to help minority students prepare themselves so they have a chance of passing the tests.

Curricula in the freshman and sophomore years, they said, should provide needed remedial work to help minorities qualify for entry into education programs in their junior year.

"The curriculum should provide for additional course work, particularly in mathematics and English, as these areas have been demonstrated to be the ones in which the black students manifest the greatest weaknesses," Mr. Peoples said.

Wilhelmina Delco, a Texas state representative from Austin, agreed. ''If the institutions and the states take into consideration that these kids enter the pipleline from a further distance back, and therefore are willing to expend extra funds even in the last two years of high school or the first two years of college, it will improve black teachers. There's no doubt about it," she said.

Mrs. Delco, who is chairman of the higher education committee of the Texas House of Representatives, agreed that teachers should pass subject-matter examinations before winning certification.

And she said she favors no special treatment for minorities. "If the goal is an 800 score for history [teachers] at the end, I would adamantly oppose them being certified with any less," she added.

Howard Rawlings, a Maryland delegate, acknowledged concern that minorities mightre poorly on standardized entry tests. "Certainly there needs to be some concern that tests that are used are validated tests and that any cultural bias on the exams is minimized," he said. "But I think so compelling is the need for good quality, competent teachers, in our classrooms, that that must be the overriding concern," he added.

Mr. Rawlings, a community-college teacher in Baltimore, said he has sponsored legislation that has led to the creation of a commission on improving the quality of teaching in Maryland.

Ms. Galambos cautioned that increased testing for prospective teachers will not necessarily guarantee educational quality in southern schools. "You are only assuring basic skills, but you are putting a floor in," she said.

Ms. Galambos added that she was not surprised that much of the support for upgraded teacher training was coming from minority legislators.

"I think that black legislators are feeling that in order to prevent another generation of black children who will lack the basic skills, it's important to staff the classrooms with teachers who have basic skills," she said.

The sreb task force acknowledged that black students have special academic needs. The solution to their situation, it noted, lies with curricular reform at the secondary and college level, "with mandatory intensification of communication and quantitative course work."

"To a considerable degree," the report states, "the success of such reform depends on an adequate supply of highly qualified black teachers."

Mr. Peoples noted that many of the best black students are already opting for fields other than education because they promise better salaries and broader opportunities.

The 28-page sreb report, entitled "The Need for Quality," was released last June. Its recommendations call upon leaders in government and education to move immediately to implement minimum standards throughout southern education, and then during the 1980's to seek "substantial improvement of academic standards, above these minimum expectations."

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