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Arkansas Test Boycott Fizzles; Test Copies Allegedly Leaked

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While a threatened boycott of the new test required of Arkansas teachers failed to materialize last week, state police were investigating allegations that copies of the controversial examination were leaked in advance.

State education officials said last week that more than 90 percent of the 28,000 administrators and teachers required to take the examination on March 23 had done so. The 17,000-member Arkansas Education Association had estimated, on the basis of surveys of members, that 8,000 teachers would boycott the test.

"You will find, however, that the vast majority of the people who took the test did so under protest and duress," said Peggy Nabors, president of the state affiliate of the National Education Association. Many teachers wore black armbands to the 267 testing sites and wrote "under protest" after their names when they signed in, she said.

Testing Program

Arkansas is currently the only state to require certified teachers to pass a test in order to renew their certification.

The testing program, initiated by Gov. Bill Clinton and approved by the legislature in a special session in 1983, requires that all certified personnel, teachers and administrators alike, take the Arkansas Educational Skills Assessment test. It further requires that all certified personnel take a subject-matter test or complete six college credits by 1987.

Teachers and administrators were given four hours to complete the three sections of the test, which was devised by IOX Assessment Associates in California. State officials set the passing score on the reading and mathematics sections of the test at 70 percent; the writing section will be graded on a pass-fail basis.

Results of the test will be issued within "one or two months," according to Scharmel Bolling, a spokesman for the department.

Rate of Failure

Teachers who fail the test will be given remedial help and will be able to take it again, according to Ms. Bolling. The department has not decided how many times it will allow those who fail the test to repeat it, she said.

Ms. Nabors said field-testing of the assessment indicated that about 26 percent of all teachers, and about 52 percent of minority teachers, will fail the test. She added that the association expects the test to exacerbate a shortage of teachers in the state.

Court Dismisses Complaint

Ms. Nabors suggested that many of the teachers who said they would participate in a boycott decided not to do so when a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the test was dismissed by a state-court judge the day before the test was given.

The lawsuit claimed that the testing law "created a separate class of citizenry" and violated constitutional equal-protection guarantees by not including private-school teachers, future teachers, or teachers who were unemployed or on a leave of absence during the 1984-85 school year.

The Pulaski Chancery Court dismissed the case, Ms. Nabors said, because the state legislature last month passed a law specifiying that those categories of certified personnel are also required to meet the provisions of the law.

Ms. Nabors said the union will file another lawsuit in the near future challenging the validity of the assessment.

Arkansas state police, mean3while, are investigating allegations that copies of the test were leaked to teachers prior to the day the test was taken, according to Ms. Bolling. The department will have no further comment on the matter until the police conclude their investigation, she said.

News Report Prompts Probe

State-police spokesmen said last week they did not know how long it would take to complete the probe, which was prompted by a Little Rock television station's report that copies of the test had been obtained by teachers in advance.

Tommy Ventors, director of the education department's general-education division, told reporters shortly after the broadcast that "security on the test was completely sound" and that the test "could not have been compromised in any way."

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