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Ga. Teachers Who Failed Exam Continue To Teach

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When this school year began, one out of three of the practicing Georgia teachers who were required--but failed--to meet the July 31 deadline for passing the state's Teacher Competency Test were teaching either in the positions they held last year or as substitute teachers, a state education official reported last week.

Georgia's education-reform package, approved by lawmakers in 1985, required that all inservice teachers scheduled to renew their credentials by last August pass the subject-area test--a requirement for all new teachers in the state since 1978. Teachers had nine opportunities to take the test by the cut-off date.

As of Oct. 1, however, 90 of the 327 teachers who failed to pass by that date were still teaching in the same position they had held during the 1986-87 school year, according to Bill Gambill, an associate state superintendent of schools.

Districts employing these teachers had classified them as substitutes, he noted.

'Bad Practice'

A survey conducted by the state education department shortly after the school year began, Mr. Gambill said, found that 39 districts were employing, as substitutes, a total of 139 teachers whose certificates had expired because they failed to pass the test. The figure includes the 90 full-time teachers classified as substitutes.

Of the 39 districts, he said, 34 had kept on one or more of the teachers in their previously held positions.

The survey findings have been presented to the board of education.

"We don't think these teachers should be in the classroom because they have not passed the test," Mr. Gambill said. "We just think it is bad practice; these districts are hurting themselves in the eyes of the public."

Although state law requires all teachers to pass the test to become recertified, districts employing those who have failed the exam are not officially violating state regulations, Mr. Gambill said.

The districts have until Jan. 31 to demonstrate to the state that their classrooms are staffed by fully certified teachers, he noted.

He added that the department of education is in the process of crafting new guidelines that will clarify whom the districts may employ as substitutes, and how long they may teach in any one classroom.

Currently, districts are supposed to hire certified teachers as substitutes. But if no certified teacher can be found, they are required to choose the candidates who most closely meet certification standards.

"The question has now arisen," Mr. Gambill said: "Who more nearly meets the substitute requirement, a person who was previously certified but has taken the test and failed it, or a person who is a college graduate but has never taken the test?"

Best Available

Norris Long, director of regional services for the state department of education, the division that conducted the survey, said many districts decided to keep teachers who had failed the test because they were the most qualified people available when school opened in the fall.

"We have a teacher shortage in this state right now," Mr. Long said.

"I don't think there there is a single [district] that is not trying to get every slot filled with a certified teacher," he continued. "In many cases, our survey shows that these teachers who now have no activecertification were the best qualified they could find."

Mr. Long noted, however, that he was "not comfortable with the survey results." Some of the teachers in question passed the test when it was administered this fall and are now recertified, he said.

It is also possible, he noted, that since the survey was conducted a number of districts may have found certified teachers to replace the non-certified people they had hired on a substitute basis.

"Things out there are as fluid as they can be," he stated.

Mr. Gambill conceded that "there is a lot of 'we don't know' in all of this."

After Jan. 31, he said, the state will check districts' payroll records against certification records to make sure systems do not have noncertified personnel teaching classes on a full-time basis.

Local Controversy

The move by districts to continue to employ teachers who failed to pass the test has attracted attention in several communities.

For instance, the decision by the Atlanta Public Schools to employ as full-time substitutes more than 40 teachers who failed to pass the test created a furor this fall.

Although those teachers, most of whom are black, have retained their benefits and receive the district's minimum teacher salary, they may not teach in any one vacancy for more than nine days. To remain in the district, they must pass the test by April 1.

Alonzo A. Crim, Atlanta's superintendent, responded to criticism of the substitute program in an article in The Atlanta Constitution.

In it, he argued that the district, which is 92 percent black, cannot afford to lose minority teachers.

The teachers in question, he said, are "veteran teachers with experience ranging from 6 to 15 years." Each, he added, has been evaluated at least five times, and "none has been found unsatisfactory."

Georgia is one of three states--along with Arkansas and Texas--that have required practicing teachers to pass a test to retain their certification, and thus their jobs.

Roughly 20,000 Georgia teachers were required to pass by this past August, according to Lester M. Solomon, state director of teacher assessment. Over the next three years, another 25,000 educators will have to pass the exam when their credentials come up for renewal. But many of these individuals, Mr. Solomon said, have already passed the test.

Last August, the Georgia Association of Educators--arguing that the certification test is racially biased and not job related--filed suit in U.S. District Court to block the state from using it as a screening devise for certification.

Of the 327 teachers who had failed the test by this year's cut-off date, 244 were black. Union lawyers expect the case to go to trial next summer.

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