New Jersey Teacher-Educators Say Test Failure Rates Overstated
New Jersey's chancellor for higher education agreed last week to investigate charges by education-school officials that a state department of education report released this month overstates their students' failure rate on the newly required teacher-certification test.
Chancellor T. Edward Hollander will examine data supplied by the colleges and universities on test-takers and their scores, and will prepare a report for the board of higher education, according to his executive assistant, Dorothy Louise.
His decision followed expressions of outrage by many New Jersey teacher educators over what they said were inaccuracies in the department's report, and objections by some to the release of each school's failure rates in the first place.
Some officials have alleged that the department intentionally misrepresented the failure rate of education-school graduates to enhance the credibility of the state's new "alternative route to certification."
But, while acknowledging the possibility of minor errors in the report, John T. Klagholz, president of the state board of education, said that the board "is convinced that the data are accurate." School of education officials who claim the data are in error, he said, may just be looking for an excuse for their institution's poor scores.
Discrepancies in Data
Kenneth D. Carlson, a professor of education at Rutgers University, said that many education-school officials knew when they received the state data "that the information was garbled."
He said, for example, that the number of Rutgers students cited by the report as taking the test was double the number who actually took it. The students' failure rate was exaggerated as well, he said.
Officials at Montclair State College reported an even greater disparity. According to the state, 258 Montclair students enrolled in secondary-education courses were tested last year and 8.5 percent failed. In fact, said Nicholas M. Michelli, the college's dean of professional studies, only 94 took the test and 4 percent failed.
Mr. Michelli added that the report's claim that 47 prospective elementary teachers from Montclair had taken the test was obviously wrong, since the school has no elementary program.
Last spring, New Jersey began requiring that prospective elementary teachers pass the National Teacher Examinations' general-knowledge test and prospective secondary teachers pass one of the nte's 16 subject-area tests.
Earlier this month, the board of education announced that it was raising the state's passing scores on both the subject-area and general-knowledge examinations to close the gap between its cutoff scores and the passing grades used by most other states on the nte
New Jersey is one of a handful ofstates that release test results by university or college attended. Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida also do so.
Many New Jersey teacher educators now claim that publication of the failure rates was meant to discredit their programs and bolster support for the state's efforts to attract talented individuals without professional teacher training into the classroom.
According to the report, a "disappointingly high" 13.5 percent of the graduates of "traditional" teacher-training programs failed the certification test last year, while only 5.2 percent of the alternative-route candidates failed.
Mr. Carlson said that the inaccuracies in the report are so obvious only "incompetence or mischievousness" could have caused them.
"I think it's the second of the two," he said. "They were so intent on making an invidious comparison between the alernative-program candidates and the education-school candidates that they had trouble containing themselves."
Mr. Klagholz agreed that one of the reasons the board had sought a detailed report on the results was to compare the quality of the two groups. But he said the report "was not intended to have college programs look bad. If they do look bad, it is coincidental," said Mr.Klagholz.. "Obviously some teacher-education programs are in need of significant improvement."
The report on the testing results also documented that a disproportionate number of minority teacher candidates failed the test. Of the 410 minority candidates taking the general-knowledge test last year, 46.6 percent failed. In the subject-area testing, 29.2 percent of the 394 minority candidates failed, according to the report.
Concerned that the state's tougher standards for teacher preparation and certification are screening prospective minority teachers out of the profession, Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman earlier this month announced a new program designed to hand-pick prospective minority teachers when they are juniors in high school and provide them with intensive summer training to help them meet college-entrance requirements.
When these minority students reach college, said Mr. Cooperman, the state will offer them a $7,500 annual loan, with portions to be forgiven for each year taught in one of the state's public schools.
The program will be pilot-tested next summer with 25 students enrolled at one of the state's colleges, he said.