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Idaho Task Force Calls For Tougher Standards in Education

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Tougher standards for students, teachers, and administrators are recommended in the recently released final report of the Idaho Commission on Excellence in Education.

But the state's largest teachers' group says the plan ignores the fiscal problems that education is facing there.

In an educational "blueprint" to be reviewed by the state board of education this month, the 19-member commission recommends stricter standards in the education and evaluation of teachers and administrators, the basic curriculum, achievement testing, and admissions requirements to the state's colleges and universities.

"We found existing standards in many areas very weak," said Gerald R. Wallace, the retired dean of the school of education at Boise State University who chaired the commission. Other members of the panel included education officials, business executives, teachers, journalists, and the chief justice of the state supreme court.

The state board of education appointed the commission last January to examine longstanding concerns among educators, politicians, and parents about minimum requirements in Idaho, Mr. Wallace said.

Among the commission's major recommendations for amendments or additions to existing state policies are:

Tougher standards for admission to teacher-education programs and for initial certification, and the development of a procedure to recertify teachers every five years.

Although specific changes must be shaped largely by the teacher-training institutions and by public schools themselves, Mr. Wallace said, he noted that there are currently no rigorous standards for admission to the state's teacher-training programs, and that there is no postgraduate testing of any type for new teachers.

A merit-pay system for teachers, to be devised by local school districts.

Requirements that administrators have five years' teaching experience and that principals spend one-third of the working day observing and participating in the classroom.

A core curriculum for all high-school students, including four years of English with an emphasis on writing, two years of mathematics, and additional work in reading, speech, science, history, American government, economics, health, physical education, and humanities or foreign languages. Twenty-eight nonelective semester credits would be required for graduation, as opposed to the 18 nonelective credits now required.

Abolishment of existing open-admissions policies at the state's colleges and universities.

The open-admissions policy has damaged higher education in the state, Mr. Wallace said. "In one institution alone, there were as many as 60 remedial freshman courses," he said.

The commission recommended that college-bound Idaho students meet stiffer requirements than contained in the recommended core curriculum, including three years of science, three of mathematics, and three of a foreign language.

A proficiency test for all 6th- and 8th-grade students and a standardized test to be administered in either the 11th or 12th grade. At present, the state requires no proficiency test; districts may elect to administer one in the 9th grade.

'Blueprint' Favorably Received

Mr. Wallace said the "blueprint" has been favorably received by colleagues, the public, and the press.

Jerry L. Evans, state superintendent of public instruction, said he is "quite pleased" with the plan.

However, the Idaho Education Association (iea) finds the plan unrealistic, given current fiscal conditions.

"Our concern was the inattention given by the commission to adequate levels of funding," said Donald L. Rollie, executive director of the iea "We believe that the subject of excellence cannot be intelligently discussed without discussion of the erosion of educational funding."

The ability of local governments to raise money for schools has been hampered by "One Percent," the state property-tax limitation that has been in effect three years, Mr. Rollie said.

The measure has put a strain on the state's general education fund, he said, by raising the state share of the typical district's educational expenses from about 60 percent to about 75 percent.

He said the measure has also lowered per-pupil expenditures. Idaho ranked 47th in the nation in per-pupil expenditures last year, according to the National Education Association.

The financial issue aside, the plan has "some strong features," according to Mr. Rollie.

"There is no question that there is some need to increase requirements," he said.

He also predicted that some features of the proposal may have trouble in the state legislature. For example, the state professional-standards commission, an independent group that deals with education standards, has tried without success in the past to raise certification standards for teachers, he pointed out.

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