Few Blacks Passing Ga. Teacher Test, Study Finds
A newly released five-year summary of Georgia's teacher-testing program reveals a wide gap between the scores of black candidates and those of their white counterparts.
The summary of the scores of 22,000 candidates who took Georgia's teacher-certification test, released for the first time last month at the request of a governor's task force, found that only 34 percent of black students passed it on the first try, compared with 87 percent of white students.
Partly as a result of these findings, state education officials will recommend to the Georgia State Board of Regents this week that the state adopt a new policy that would put teacher-training programs on probation if fewer than 70 percent of their students pass the certification test, said Ray Cleere, vice-chancellor of the University of Georgia system and an aide to the board. State officials described the regents as "very concerned" about the test-score gap.
If the board approves the proposal, Georgia will become the third state to have imposed a statewide policy that links state approval of teacher-training programs to graduates' certification-test scores, according to a spokesman for the Southern Regional Education Board. The other two states are Florida and Alabama; both states have adopted the policies within the last two years. Georgia officials disagreed about what might have caused the difference in test scores.
Lester Solomon, director of certification for the state education department, called it "an institutional problem" rather than a problem created by the individual student. He pointed to the relatively high scores achieved by the few black students who attend primarily white teacher-education colleges. At Georgia State University, for example, black candidates have achieved a 74-percent pass rate on the test, he noted, compared with 48 percent at the predominantly black Fort Valley State College.
But Mr. Cleere, a former dean of education at Valdosta State College, disagreed, contending the institutions were not at fault. "The quality of staff, the quality of programs, and the level of funding in predominantly black schools is just as good as it is in predominantly white institutions," he said.
The difference, he added, lies in the precollegiate preparation of the students. Black students attending schools with high admissions standards, such as the University of Georgia, are a "whole different population" from most of those who attend primarily black colleges, whom he described as "educationally deprived."
The Georgia report is based on the results of the Georgia Teacher Certification Test, which has been given three times each year since 1978 at the state's 33 teacher-education colleges, Mr. Solomon said. It is a 150-question test offered in 28 different subjects (such as special education, secondary-school history, and counseling), and is meant to test teachers in their chosen fields, according to Mr. Solomon.
State officials said that great care was taken, when the test was developed, to avoid racial bias. Teachers must also pass an on-the-job performance test to win certification, officials said.
The results of the Georgia tests have long been available in the state files, but the Educational Review Council, a panel convened by Gov. Joe Frank Harris, was the first to ask for the five-year summary, said Mr. Cleere.
If the regents approve the probation plan at their meeting this week, the state board of education will consider it at a meeting next month. Under the new policy,at least one program would be put on probation at each of the state's 14 public colleges and universities with teacher-education programs and about 15 of the private colleges would have at least one program put on probation, officials said.
Some 14 states require prospective teachers to pass such tests, and at least 10 more states, including New York and Texas, are preparing to implement similar tests within the next two years.
Other states with teacher-testing programs have had similar experiences, with disproportionately low numbers of minority candidates passing the examinations.
In Florida, results from a similar certification test, released early this year, showed that 35 percent of the black candidates passed on the first try, compared with 90 percent of the white candidates, said Kenneth Loewe, director of teacher certification at the state's division of public schools.
"We don't have any explanation," Mr. Loewe said. "We can only conclude that these students are coming to college without the skills and aren't getting them at college either."
A Florida law, effective this year, requires that education-school programs must achieve an 80-percent pass rate to win state approval, officials there said. Twenty of the state's 32 teacher-training colleges are affected by the new law and some 40 programs in those schools have been discontinued or put on probation this year.