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N.C. Education-School Study Links High Standards, Enrollment Decline

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A new study analyzing changes at North Carolina's 44 teacher-education colleges during the enrollment decline of the past decade has found that those colleges committed to maintaining high standards are losing the most students because they have no flexibility in the present market.

The decade has been marked by a decline both in the numbers and the abilities of those choosing to enter teaching.

The study also found that those colleges that responded by graduating more low-scoring students have suffered the least and are gaining a larger share of the shrinking market.

A national study by the National Center for Education Statistics in 1982 reported that 74 percent of teacher-education schools had raised their admissions standards over the previous five years.

The North Carolina study focused on the exit standards of the colleges rather than the admissions standards, but found little indication that schools there had raised standards during the years reviewed. Only two small colleges among the 44 had raised their exit standards, the report states.

The authors of the study--Philip C. Schlechty, professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Victor Vance, assistant principal of Albritton Middle School in Fort Bragg, N.C.--said the results point to some disquieting conclusions, according to Mr. Schlechty.

"The drift of it is that maintaining your standards leads to decline," he said. "Those willing to [lower] their standards are now gaining a larger share of the market."

The study is the first to monitor enrollment shifts at such close range, said David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. North Carolina is the only state where such a study has been done, he added.

Two of the five colleges that have maintained consistently high standards are dismantling their programs, and two others are facing "substantial declines in enrollment," according to the study. The five include Duke University, Davidson College, Wake-Forest University, the University of North Carolina, and Salem College.

The study groups the 44 teacher-education programs by their graduates' scores on the National Teachers Examination, and the stability of those scores over time. It looks at the scores of graduates who became teachers--not those who chose other careers--in the years 1973-74 and 1979-80.

A "high stable" institution is one in which at least 60 percent of the graduates scored in the top two-fifths of those who took the examination. A "low stable" institution is one in which fewer than 40 percent scored in the top two fifths.

But the two groups of particular significance in the study--the "high-declining" and "moderate-declining" institutions--are those in which the proportion of high-scoring students dropped between the two comparison periods.

These schools experienced some decline in enrollment, but not as large as the groups at the two extremes, according to the study. For example, the five "high-declining" colleges suffered a 16-percent enrollment drop, (compared with a 34-percent drop found in "high stable" colleges). But they offset that loss by increasing the proportion of low-scoring students in their programs by 126 percent, the study found.

"It is clear that the high-declining institutions, because of the presence of low-scoring students, have offset the enrollment impact of the decisions of high-scoring students to reject teaching," the study says.

Of the five high-declining colleges, none has adopted an open-admissions policy, but none has rigorous, inflexible standards similar to the colleges in the high-stable group, the study states.

The moderate-declining colleges also showed an increase (14 percent) in the proportion of low-scoring graduates. Both the high- and moderate-declining colleges were able to open their doors to a new market of students that they had "taken little advantage of" in the past, the study notes.

Commenting on these findings, Mr. Imig said: "It surprises me because the pressure is all to raise standards." He said his association is compiling national test-score information on education students that will be available early next year.

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