E.T.S. President Asks Limited Use Of Teacher Test
The Educational Testing Service (ets) will stop distributing its teacher-competency examinations to states or school systems that make their teachers pass the tests to keep their jobs, the testing organization's president has announced.
Reacting to the enactment by the Arkansas legislature last month of a law requiring the state's 26,000 teachers and administrators to pass tests comparable to the ets's National Teacher Examination (nte), Gregory R. Anrig said it is "morally and educationally wrong to tell someone who has been judged a satisfactory teacher for years that passing a certain test on a certain day is necessary to keep his or her job."
In a Nov. 22 speech in Little Rock, Mr. Anrig said the nte is not to be used "to determine the compensation, retention, termination, advancement, pay supplements, or changes in provisional employment of teachers," once they are on the job.
ets also distributes a general knowledge test, called the Pre-Professional Skills Test, which is an abbreviation of one section of the nte The tests measure basic communications skills.
Arkansas is the first state to announce plans to use such tests to evaluate teachers already on the job and to tie them to certification.
Until now, the tests have been used only to screen students preparing to enter the profession. Approximately 10 states now use them for that purpose.
Tests Used as Weeding Tool
But in the recent rush to improve school standards, officials in some states and districts have begun to view the tests as a possible tool to weed out incompetent teachers already in the classroom. The Houston Independent School District is using the test that way and the Mobile County School Board in Alabama has plans to.
The state of Arkansas, according to Mr. Anrig, had contracted with ets to use the exam only for prospective teachers. But this fall, without informing ets, "they passed a bill to use the test for their 30,000 existing teachers," he said.
The new Arkansas law requires that after 1987 all teachers must pass an academic-skills test in order to keep their certification.
The law provides for inservice training or state-subsidized college courses for those who fail and want to take it again.
Arkansas officials said, however, that talks were held with ets officials about using portions of their tests before the new bill was passed.
Mr. Anrig said he was confident that ets could maintain control over the circulation of the widely-used test, although some school administrators disagreed.
"When a district wants to give a test, it must contract with us for a specific number and an agreed-upon use," Mr. Anrig said. ets also copyrights its tests, as a further form of control, he noted.
The Houston district did inform ets that it planned to use the test to evaluate current teachers, but did not specify that eligibility for salary raises would be contingent on passing the test, Mr. Anrig said.
"After our March  agreement, they added the salary freeze," he said.
Houston has already tested its current teachers several times in the last year.
School officials stress that the test is optional and that certification is not contingent on it; but they confirmed that after 1985, raises will be tied to passing it. Officials said the salary provision was approved in August and was not being consid-ered last March, when an agreement was reached with ets.
Besides the ets Pre-Professional Skills Test, the district also offers a test of its own, called the Functional Academic Skills Test, and teachers can take either, said Ron McIntire, an executive deputy superintendent.
Free remedial help is available at the district's expense.
ets has now notified the state of Arkansas and the Houston district that the nte and the Pre-Professional Skills Test will not be available for testing on-the-job teachers, Mr. Anrig said.
But officials in both places say they disagree with ets's arguments and plan to go ahead with their testing programs, using other tests if necessary.
"The ets decision is no big deal to us," said Mr. McIntire last week. "Thank goodness we were smart enough to develop our own test."
Mr. McIntire questioned whether ets could in fact succeed in removing its tests from circulation. He said they were available at most Texas universities and colleges to whoever could pay to take them. "The big question is, how is ets going to stop this? Anybody can get the tests and take them," he said.
Mr. Anrig said he is not aware that tests are circulating freely. Before receiving the tests, he said, a district (or state) must first reach an agreement with ets about who will take the tests and under what terms.
He also said the district must specify the number of people who will take the test.
Those who abuse the agreements could be charged with violation of the copyright law, Mr. Anrig noted. They also might violate certain federal employment guidelines, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if passage of the test is tied to career advancement, he added.
In Arkansas, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Clinton said the Governor believes "testing is the best way to find out a person's basic knowledge'' and that the state intends to proceed with plans to write its own tests. These will first be given during the 1984-85 school year.
Both Arkansas and Houston spokesmen also strongly disagreed with some critics who claim that testing on-the-job teachers is only a low-cost substitute for an effective evaluation system.
Gary Sykes, a former research associate in teaching with the National Institute of Education, charged that "districts who don't wish to put resources into an effective evaluation system try to lay on a test instead, to gain credibility with the public."
Mr. Sykes said good evaluation systems are costly in terms of staff time, but warned that schools "shouldn't compound the problem by doing something cheap and misleading, like testing."
In Houston, Mr. McIntire called the charge "ridiculous." He said, ''We have probably the most sophisticated classroom observation system in the United States," and added that district administrators pour "hundreds and hundreds of hours" into evaluating their staff.
Governor Clinton has just announced the formation of a Committee on Teacher Education, Evaluation, and Certification to look into better teacher evaluation, said Joan Roberts, a spokesman. "The Governor doesn't look at testing as a replacement for evaluations," she said.