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Georgia, N.E.A. Settle Suit on Teacher Testing

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Blake Rodman

The state of Georgia and the Georgia affiliate of the National Education Association have settled a federal lawsuit the union filed almost two years ago to bar the state from using its teacher-testing program as a screening device for certification.

Under the terms of the settlement, Georgia may continue to use its Teacher Competency Tests as a requirement for initial certification and for the recertification of practicing teachers when their credentials come up for renewal.

In exchange, the state has promised to revise all of its subject-area tests by September 1991; provide a free study course for teachers who still have to pass the tests; and pay "study grants" of $6,000 to all teachers who last fall lost their certification, and thus their jobs, because they failed to pass the examinations.

Union officials said they expect the settlement to cost the state roughly $3 million. But state officials estimated that the tab will be less than that.

In 1985, Georgia lawmakers approved legislation requiring all teachers wishing to renew their credentials after July of last year to pass the subject-area test--a requirement for all new teachers in the state since 1978.

The Georgia Association of Educators--arguing that the testing program was racially biased and not a valid predictor of job performance--filed suit in U.S. District Court to block the test requirement.

At the time of the settlement, the caseinued on Page 17

Georgia, N.E.A. To Settle Testing Lawsuit

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had not yet gone to trial. Last August, however, U.S. District Judge Charles Moye denied a gae request for a preliminary injunction to block the dismissal of roughly 325 practicing teachers who had failed to pass the exam by the cutoff date.

The Georgia suit was one of three that the nea and its affiliates have filed to block laws that require practicing teachers to pass tests to keep their jobs. Each suit has charged that the tests in question discriminate against minorities.

The suits in the other two states--Arkansas and Texas--were withdrawn by the union after numerous administrations of the tests produced passing scores for the overwhelming majority of minority teachers.

Following the announcement last week of the Georgia settlement, Robert Chanin, general counsel for the nea, said he did not know of any remaining litigation in federal court that addresses the legality of teacher-certification testing.

Alabama Case Ends

The Georgia settlement came one week after the quiet conclusion of a six-year legal battle in Alabama that involved the testing of prospective teachers.

The complex lawsuit, Allen v. Alabama State Board of Education, was one of the first in the nation to challenge the constitutionality of state teacher-certification tests that have had a disproportionate minority failure rate. The nea provided some legal assistance to the plaintiffs in the case, but was not a party to the suit.

The final orders came Feb. 24, when U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson approved a state-prepared plan for dividing $500,000 in damages among as many as 1,200 blacks who had been denied certificates because they failed the state-required exams.

In a 1985 settlement with the plaintiffs in the case, the state board of education had agreed to pay the damages and make sweeping changes in its teacher-testing program.

Sharp public criticism of the settlement, however, prompted the board to reverse itself and reject the agreement. A protracted legal battle over whether the board had formal4ly agreed to the settlement ended when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found the agreement binding. (See Education Week, Dec. 10, 1986.)

Richard Meadows, a lawyer for the state department of education, said last week that more than 900 blacks who had initially failed the tests, but ended up passing after the exams were rescored under the terms of the settlement, will soon receive a check for their share of the money, roughly $400.

Another 320 people who failed the tests but also lacked some other certification requirement may be eligible to receive damages as well, Mr. Meadows said. To qualify, he said, they must demonstrate by Aug. 30 that they have since met the missing certification requirement.

After Sept. 30, he said, any remaining money will be evenly distributed among all those who have qualified.

"On Sept. 30," said Mr. Meadows, "this thing is finally over."

Georgia 'Victory'

Given the circumstances surrounding the Georgia case, Mr. Chanin said last week, the union considers the settlement a "major victory."

Mr. Chanin noted that the lawsuit hinged on the union's ability to demonstrate that the test was having an "adverse racial impact." He admitted, however, that the overall pass rate among blacks is now around 90 percent, considerably higher than when the union filed the suit.

The fact that the state has made "steady improvements" in its testing program, and has promised to revise all the exams over the next several years also contributed to the union's decision to seek a settlement, he said.

'We think this kind of testing is lousy, but we accept the reality that a properly developed test is not going to be legally challengeable," Mr. Chanin said. "Considering the fact that the state is not going to abandon testing, and that our ability to attack it was slipping away from us, we believe this is an outstanding settlement."

Under its terms, both the nea and its Georgia affiliate agree not to "institute, finance, or otherwise support any other lawsuit asserting the same or similar claims."

For the state, "the overriding issue was the continuation of the teacher-testing program," said Richard Kicklighter, director of the division of assessment for the department of education.

'Long and Complex Activity'

While the settlement gives teachers who have failed "substantial help," he said, "it still requires them to pass the tct for certification."

"[The lawsuit] has been a long and complex, time-consuming, staff-consuming, and money-consuming activity that we have been compelled to attend to for the past two years," the official said. "Given the conditions of the settlement, we felt that terminating the activity would best benefit public education."

The state will pay the costs incurred by the settlement from a teacher-development program, which last year received roughly $23 million in funding, Mr. Kicklighter said.

Terms of Settlement

Under the terms of the settlement, the more than 320 teachers who held renewable certificates during the 1986-87 school year, but lost their jobs because they failed to pass the tct, will receive a $6,000 "study grant" from the state.

In addition, 400 to 500 people who were teaching on a provisional--or one-year--certificate during one of the last three school years, but were dismissed at the end of the year for failing to pass the test, will receive $2,000.

To be eligible for the money, the teachers must have already taken the tct at least two times and must register for one of the two-week study courses that the state has agreed to develop and offer for each of the tct subject areas.

People in these two categories, as well as those who have failed the test and have never taught, or those who must pass the test in the future to renew their credentials, may take a course once free of charge.

The state has said that it will make changes in the testing program ''to assure that it is operated consistent with standards of acceptable psychometric practice," and that "revised" exams in all subject areas will be in place by the beginning of the 1991-92 school year.

Also under the settlement, a "tct advisory committee" will be created to monitor the testing program in the future. The committee will have 12 to 15 members, six of whom will be teachers. Four of the six will be selected from nominees submitted by the gae, and three will be minority-group members.

When a teacher who has been dismissed for failing to pass the exam achieves a passing score, the state has agreed to promptly notify the district that previously employed the teacher and encourage it to give him or her "priority status in filling vacant teaching positions."

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