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Louisiana To Ease Teacher Shortage by Lowering Test Scores

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The Louisiana superintendent of education, citing a need to help ease a shortage of teachers in several subjects, has announced his intention to lower the passing scores on a number of the state's teacher-certification tests.

"We can close the gap" between the demand and the supply of teachers in the state "by lowering scores," he said in announcing the move.

But a ranking official in the Louisiana Department of Education, who asked that his name not be used, said that the existing cut-off scores, in place since 1978, "are already ridiculously low."

"Anyone who can't pass them shouldn't be allowed in the classroom," he said.

Stalled by Disagreement

In addition, State Superintendent Thomas G. Clausen's plan has been stalled while a controversy with the state board of elementary and secondary education over who has the authority to shift the cut-off scores is resolved.

According to a spokesman for Mr. Clausen, the state attorney general in 1978 concluded that the superintendent of education has such authority. But the board is contending that it has the final authority to make changes in the passing grades.

A bill under consideration in the state Senate would vest the authority with the board.

Four Subjects

Mr. Clausen said he will lower the passing grades on tests in four subjects: French, mathematics, social studies, and business education. All teachers in Louisiana must pass a three-part "core battery" of the National Teachers Examination (nte) to earn a license to teach in the state. Most teachers must also pass an nte examination in their subject area.

The passing grade on the French examination will be lowered from the 43rd to the 25th percentile on the nationally normed test, meaning that one must only do as well as 25 percent of those who take the test nationally to pass it.

The passing grade on the mathematics test will be lowered from the 68th percentile to the 39th percentile; on the social-studies test, it will be lowered from the 40th percentile to the 34th percentile; on the business-education test, it will be lowered from the 43rd to the 25th percentile.

No Change for nte

The cut-off scores on the core battery of the nte were not changed by Mr. Clausen. Students must score at the 15th percentile or above to pass the communications section, at the 22nd percentile to pass the general-knowledge section, and at the 20th percentile to pass the professional-knowledge section.

Mr. Clausen, who assumed his position on March 12, rejected a recommendation that the cut-off score on the English examination be raised from the 6th percentile to the 31st percentile. The recommendation was made by a 31-member panel of educators and citizens appointed by J. Kelly Nix, Mr. Clausen's predecessor, to review the state's teacher-testing program.

Evening Passing Rates

The committee, which also recommended the changes made by Mr. Clausen in the cut-off scores on the four other examinations, sought the changes, not out of a desire to ease shortages of teachers but in an attempt to even out the percentage of prospective teachers passing the various examinations, according to an official in the state education department familiar with the committee's work.

Up to 94 percent of those taking the English examination have passed it, while only 20 percent have passed the mathematics test since it was implemented, the official said.

According to state officials, shortages of certified teachers resulted in some 800 individuals teaching in Louisiana's schools this school year without a certificate, most of them as special-education teachers and teachers of kindergarten through 3rd grade.--tt

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