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N.M. State Board Votes To Test New Teachers

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Albuquerque N.M.--Despite the objections of education schools and some officials of teacher's unions, the New Mexico State Board of Education has approved sweeping new rules mandating competency testing for all new and prospective teachers in the state.

The vote makes New Mexico the 18th state in the nation to require competency testing for teacher certification. It becomes the 13th state to require candidates for admission to teacher-training programs to pass competency tests.

Written Basic-Skills Test

Beginning July 1, 1983, college students will have to take a written basic-skills test before they may be admitted to teacher-training programs in the state's universities. The universities will select their own tests, but the state board must approve the exams.

A second test will await them when they graduate. They will have to pass a basic-skills and communications-skills test in order to be certified to teach. The state board will select a statewide test to be given to all graduates and to teachers transferring into New Mexico.

Teachers already certified in New Mexico will not have to take competency tests. However, the state board intends to set up state-wide evaluation standards for teachers. After July 1, 1984, teachers will have to demonstrate effective classroom performance in order to be re-certified.

First-time certification of teachers in New Mexico has been based on completion of required college coursework. In order to be re-certified, teachers now have to complete graduate courses and receive a recommendation from a school administrator.

The new regulations were adopted after the state legislature ordered the state department of education in 1980 to come up with a plan for6making teachers more accountable. State education officials made clear that the legislature would have imposed tougher requirements if the state board had not done so.

A.L. Clemmons, director of New Mexico's public-school finance division, told the state board, "The state legislature is not bashful. They will create their own regulations. We must do something now or have it done for us."

The legislatures of Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have already mandated testing for certification.

The New Mexico board of education adopted the new certification regulation over strong opposition from the National Education Association of New Mexico (neanm) and the New Mexico Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, which represents most education schools in the state.

Luciano Baca, spokesman for the association, questioned whether the state board has the legal authority to impose testing requirements on the higher-education institutions. The state board and the universities' boards of regents are different constitutional bodies under state law, Mr. Baca said.

The association also wanted the universities to try out the various competency exams for college of education graduates before the state board selected a test.

'Life and Death Mechanism'

"We are not opposed to testing in general. But before you use a test as a life and death mechanism for someone's career, let's see first if the test is valid," Mr. Baca said.

The neanm was adamant in its opposition to the regulation, while the New Mexico Federation of Teachers expressed mixed feelings. Vodene Patterson, president-elect of neanm, said the rules assume widespread incompetence among teachers, students, administrators, and school boards.

Harriet Paine of the Albuquerque Chapter of the federation of teachers said her group could support the testing of college students and graduates. However, she cautioned that such tests could reduce the number of qualified applicants for teacher-training programs and might discriminate against minorities.

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