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Alabama May Link Certification With Teacher-Test Results

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The Alabama Board of Education has agreed to wait until more evidence is in before deciding whether--or how--to link certification of teacher-education programs to their students' performance on the state's recently developed teacher-certification tests.

Such a move would have the effect of forcing all of Alabama's teacher-education programs to meet a uniform minimum standard of student achievement in order to retain approved status in the state. Not a popular idea among education-school officials, establishing the linkage between certification of teachers and accreditation of their institutions has so far been proposed in only a few states, including Florida and North Carolina.

The Alabama board has been considering the issue because in two sets of "basic professional" and individual subject-area certification tests administered to teacher-candidates in recent months, scores varied widely for different education schools and subject areas. Moreover, out of the total number of tests given, only 76 percent of the tests received passing scores.

Approval Questioned

After the first scores were announced, some state board members questioned whether institutions with very high failure rates should be approved. (Alabama is one of six states that require candidates for teaching certificates to pass tests in "basic professional studies," as well as in the subject they will teach.)

John Tyson, a board of education member, proposed a plan in which all teacher-education programs in which "an aggregate number of 70 percent or more of the participating students failed to pass the examinations" would be placed on probation; the state superintendent would make recommendations for improving these programs. If 70 percent of the students still failed the following year, state approval of the program would be revoked.

However, at a board of education meeting last week State Superintendent Wayne asked that the board withhold any action until after the tests are administered for a fourth time in March 1982.

"Basically, we don't have enough informa6tion to know if the test is a true assessment of the programs, or if it will be," said a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Education. He added that Mr. Teague did not recommend the "Tyson resolution" but he did not rule it out as a possible future plan, either.

Alabama officials were encouraged by the relatively constant percentage of tests passed by students this past summer. Mr. Teague said the result indicated "that the overall program has a solid base and that it requires a fair and reasonable level of knowledge from those who expect to teach our children."

Overall, according to the Alabama Department of Education, 76 percent of the candidates who took the test in August passed the "basic professional studies" test; 69 percent of the males who took the test passed; 77 percent of the females passed. Of the black candidates who took the test, 43 percent passed; 81 percent of the white students passed.

The August test scores also showed variations by institution.

At most schools, "pass" rates were about the same the two times the tests were administered, and wide gaps remained between rates at different institutions. For example, 86 percent of the candidates from Samford University passed all the tests, while 35 percent from Alabama State University did so. At both schools, between 20 and 30 people took theteacher-certification tests. At Alabama State University, the percentage of students who passed jumped from 14 percent in June to 35 percent in August.

Differences among disciplines also appeared in the second group of tests. For example, 81 percent of the students taking the test to qualify to teach students with learning disabilities passed. But only 42 percent passed the test for teaching the mentally retarded.

The Alabama Education Association (aea), which represents about 35,000 educators in the state, has taken no official position on either the teacher-certification tests or the proposals to change the process by which teacher education programs are certified. Tyna D. Davis, director of instruction and professional development for the organization, said that it is monitoring the tests but, like Mr. Teague, will reserve judgment until at least four tests have been given.

"At present, we feel it is a little early to make any judgment," Ms. Davis said. She added that aea officials favor working with state education officials to modify the test if necessary. "We're trying to make the test work as long as it's fair, equitable, and valid," she said.

She said, however, that the aea had reservations about the plan to tie teacher-training programs to an institution's "pass" rate: "You can't rate an institution by test scores."--S.W.

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