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Missouri Legislature Enacts Teacher Test

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Wrapping up its current session last week, the Missouri legislature approved a bill that requires all students finishing teacher-education programs and seeking high-school certification to be tested in the disciplines they will teach.

Under the bill, all students seeking certification to teach in secondary schools will be required to take "a nationally available exam" to evaluate their competence in "the specific subject area where they are certified to teach."

The lawmakers also voted to lengthen the school year and authorized an early-childhood-education program that could cost the state up to $10 million a year by 1988.

Probation, Termination

The teacher-preparation bill also requires the state coordinating board for higher education to place on probation any teacher-training program in which less than 70 percent of the students achieve at a level equal to or higher than the national norm. And if less than 60 percent of an education school's students meet the national norm in any given year, the coordinating board will have the power to terminate the program. It can also terminate programs in which less than 70 percent of students match or exceed the national norm during three of any five years or four successive years.

The legislature also passed a bill that gives the state board of education authority to establish teacher-certification standards, according to William J. Wasson, deputy commissioner of education. Previously, teacher-training institutions were allowed to set their own certification standards, Mr. Wasson said.

In addition, lawmakers passed a bill that replaces lifetime teaching certificates with a requirement for periodic re-licensing.

The legislature approved adding $24 million to the school-foundation formula. That move will raise appropriations from $711.3 million this year to $730 million in fiscal 1985. Total appropriations for K-12 will be about $770 million next year, according to Mr. Wasson.

Funding for education next year includes $345,000 in new appropriations for summer institutes for gift3ed and talented students and $360,600 to continue--but not extend--a statewide testing program. A proposal supported by Gov. Christopher Bond would have provided an additional $500,000 to expand the testing program.

Early-Childhood Education

An early-childhood-development program that has been promoted by Governor Bond for the past three years was finally approved by the legislature, but no funds were set aside according to Nancy Vessell, a spokesman for the Governor.

She said the legislature passed an enabling act that will allow the program to get started. The Governor's early-childhood proposals call for screening preschoolers for learning problems, establishing programs to increase the cognitive and social skills of developmentally delayed 3- and 4-year-olds, and launching a program that provides school districts with funds to teach parents how to help their children learn.

According to Ms. Vessell, start-up costs for the early-childhood initiatives in fiscal 1986 will be an estimated $2.5 million, with expenses rising to $6.4 million the next year and $10 million in 1988.

'Flexible' School Calendar

The legislature repealed a law passed last year that had reduced the minimum number of days allowed for the school year.

Last year, the legislature passed a provision that allowed districts to operate with as few as 150 school days per year. The requirement will now be that students attend school for 174 days and 1,044 hours each term. No school day can be shorter than 3 hours or longer than 7 hours, Mr. Wasson said.

"The legislation was designed to keep the school day flexible to allow teachers time for inservice or parent-teacher conferences," according to Mr. Wasson.

Another law passed by the legislature was designed to make sure that money set aside for the state teachers' fund is spent on salaries.

The bill "prevents an accumulation of large balances not going out to salary increases," Mr. Wasson said. He noted that the legislature did not approve merit-pay or career-ladder plans "because of the high costs involved."

The legislature also rejected a proposal to provide $206,000 for the Missouri Department of Education to hire mathematics and science coordinators and develop a computer-instruction section in the department. Lawmakers did, however, approve legislation allowing the state to use money from available federal funds for these purposes, Mr. Wasson said.

He said that a home-schooling bill received some discussion in the House education committee and that it was likely that a committee will be established to study the issue of home schooling.

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