Shanker Urges National Test for New Teachers
Washington--Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called last week for the establishment of a national professional examination for teachers, similar to those required by the medical and legal professions.
Speaking before journalists and policymakers at the National Press Club here, Mr. Shanker said that if such a test were available, the aft would be prepared to require it as a prerequisite for membership in the 600,000-member union.
Mr. Shanker has spoken out in recent months on the need to "remove" incompetent teachers from the profession, but his address last week marked the first time he had officially advocated a professional examination for teachers. (See Education Week, Aug. 29, 1984.)
He called on the 1.7-million member National Education Association to join with him in advocating a national teacher examination. But Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the nea, said after the speech that "it is the basic right of states to determine who is qualified to teach.''
Successful classroom performance should be determined by a number of criteria, she said, adding that "the score of a test might be one aspect of a comprehensive state teacher-evaluation program."
The nea's official policy is to oppose the requirement of a test "as a condition of employment, evaluation, criterion for certification, placement, or promotion of teachers," according to the 1983-84 nea Handbook.
"The association is convinced that no test in existence is satisfactory for such usage," the handbook states.
According to David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Mr. Shanker's proposal is "consistent with positions our organization has taken during the past 10 years."
He also said that aacte's National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education "will come out with a strong endorsement of testing" in its final report, which is scheduled for release to the public Feb. 27.
But, Mr. Imig said, the report will note that there are limitations to testing and will propose that better tests be developed for teachers.
Approximately 38 states now require or are considering requiring teachers to pass some type of competency test prior to certification. (See related story on page 1.)
Current Tests 'a Joke'
In his address, Mr. Shanker criticized such minimum-competency examinations, including the National Teacher Examinations administered by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J.
Most of the tests would be considered "a joke" by any other profession, he said, adding that they are "the equivalent of licensing doctors on the basis of an exam in elementary biology."
Mr. Shanker said he did not intend to criticize the states that have implemented teacher-testing programs, but emphasized that a distinction must be made between a "first step" and an adequate testing program.
A national examination for teachers should be developed within six months by an "American Board of Professional Education," an independent group of precollegiate leaders and representatives of higher education and other professions, Mr. Shanker said.
The board, which eventually should be controlled by the teaching profession itself, Mr. Shanker said, should determine what a teacher should know in order to be effective and how best to measure those abilities.
An existing testing agency, such as the Educational Testing Service, probably would create the actual testing instrument, he said.
In addition to a comprehensive examination of teacher candidates' knowledge of their subject matter, the exam would test prospective teachers' ability to make judgments and justify instructional decisions.
Mr. Shanker also suggested that the test measure the verbal and mathematical-reasoning ability of teacher candidates. He predicted that it would take about five years to phase in the kind of test the union advocates.
Mr. Shanker called on states and school districts to support the comprehensive examination of teachers, but he recommended that it be required only of those entering the teaching profession. If states choose to require that all teachers take the test, Mr. Shanker said, the experienced teachers should be given several opportunities to pass.
Another key component in the "professionalization" of teaching, Mr. Shanker said, should be the establishment of an extended internship program.
Teaching is the only profession in which the responsibilities one assumes on the first day of work are the same as those on the last day, Mr. Shanker said. He added that no corporation or law firm would adopt such a "sink or swim" method of training its employees.
Mr. Shanker said that if efforts to upgrade teaching are not instituted before the predicted teacher shortage arrives in the next five years, it will become even more difficult to ensure the instructional quality that is being termed vital to educational reform. Faced with severe shortages, school boards "will do what they have always done" and lower standards to allow for emergency certification, he said.
The incompetent teachers who slip in during the shortage years will go through the system, "get tenure, and will be with us for a long, long time," Mr. Shanker predicted.
Benefits of Examination
Requiring prospective teachers to take a comprehensive examination for certification would have a positive effect on teacher training, on the quality of students in teaching programs, and even on the salaries school districts are able to offer teachers, Mr. Shanker maintained.
"Such tests would stimulate schools of education to reform themselves. ... It will certainly be an embarrassment to some schools if 75 percent of their students fail," he said.
Knowing that teachers were required to pass a difficult examination also would build public confidence in teachers and respect for teaching, he said.
When asked whether his proposal was an attempt to establish another economically elite profession, Mr. Shanker said, "I confess."
"But you might also get the same standards and quality that go with that," he said.