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Survey Shows 30 States Have Adopted Teacher-Competency Tests

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Led by the South, more than half of the states have enacted competency-testing programs for teachers, a new survey has found. All but three of the testing programs were enacted after 1977.

Some 30 states had approved testing programs as of last fall, and 12 states are studying the possibility of developing testing plans, according to a report by J.T. Sandefur, dean of the college of education at Western Kentucky University. The report said two states that earlier reported considering the adoption of testing programs--Iowa and South Dakota--had abandoned the idea. (See accompanying Databank.)

Mr. Sandefur, in his fourth such annual survey, last fall polled state education officials and teacher-education deans in all 50 states.

"These are efforts to assure the public that the teachers are safe to teach students--they have the tools they need," said Mr. Sandefur of the testing programs. "I hear a lot of people saying that tests are not the only answer, and I think they're right. But they're part of the answer."

The growing movement to test teachers stems from an earlier emphasis on student testing, Mr. Sandefur said.

Of the states adopting competency-testing laws or policies for teachers, 20 already have started to use the tests, according to Mr. Sandefur. Some 25 states' policies require testing for certification and 17 require testing for admission to teacher-training programs. Twenty-five states' programs use examinations to assess basic skills, 20 use tests to assess professional or pedagogical knowledge, and 19 use tests to assess knowledge of major academic fields, Mr. Sandefur's survey reveals.

Some 13 states use or plan to use only national, commercially developed tests such as the National Teachers Examination or the California Achievement Test. Another 11 states rely on tests developed by their own officials. Five states use both and one state did not report what tests it will use.

The reach of the testing programs varies greatly, the report says. For example, the Arkansas legislature last September passed a controversial measure that will require all teachers and administrators to pass basic-skills and academic-subject examinations by 1987 or risk losing their jobs. At the other extreme, Wyoming has no state testing law, but the only education college in the state now requires regular testing of prospective teachers.

Mr. Sandefur said educators now generally support the use of the examinations, although they resisted them initially. Today, he said, the tests tend to be favored by educators for the evaluation of prospective teachers but resisted for the evaluation of experienced teachers.

Cutoff Scores Too Low

Some educators--notably Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers--have said the cutoff scores on the teacher tests in many states are too low to ensure that only competent individuals are allowed into the teaching profession. Civil-rights advocates have criticized the examinations as racially biased against blacks and some other minority groups, whose scores on the tests so far have been considerably lower than those of white candidates.

Perhaps the strongest influenceon the growing use of competency testing has been the Southern Re-gional Education Board, Mr. Sandefur said. The organization of state education officials in 1979 advocated the use of teacher testing, and now all of its 14 member states have adopted programs, according to Mr. Sandefur. "Their influence is considerable," he said.

The next logical step in the development of testing programs, Mr. Sandefur said, will be the adoption by many states of "reciprocity" agreements. The sreb last year called on its members to use the same tests and standards, and the organization is now developing proposals to put such a plan into effect.

In the early stages of the teacher-testing movement, legislators initiated most of the testing requirements, Mr. Sandefur said. Officials of state education agencies began to consider programs, he said, when the officials determined that "this is what the people want, and we need to beat them [legislators] to it."

So far, 11 states have mandated testing through legislation and 22 have mandated testing through regulation. Three states have mandated testing both ways.

The states listed as having at least partially implemented teacher-testing programs are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.

States that have approved testing plans but have not yet implemented them, the study said, are Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.

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