'Different' Tests Of Teaching Skill Planned by Firm
Washington--Plans for "radically different" tests to license new teachers were announced here last week by Gregory R. Anrig, president of the Educational Testing Service, the maker of the most widely used teacher examination in the nation.
The new assessments, which will be available to states by 1992, are part of what Mr. Anrig described as a "full-court press" by the nonprofit testing firm to create broader forms of educational measurement.
Eventually, they will replace the multiple-choice, paper-and-pencil National Teacher Examinations, which have been in use since 1939. The nte is now part of teacher-licensure requirements in 30 states.
Unlike the nte, which is given at one point in a teacher's career, the new generation of tests will be administered during three separate phases in a teacher's education and training.
And they are likely to make use of such technological developments as interactive video, computer simulations of typical classroom events, and portfolios documenting a teacher's accomplishments.
If successful, Mr. Anrig predicted, the new measures will mark the first full application of "adaptive testing" to a professional-licensure examination. Other professions are also moving in this direction, he said.
The testing company is expected to spend just under $2 million on the test's development during the current year, and approximately $20 million over a five-year period.
Its officials first began thinking about changing the nte in 1986, Mr. Anrig said, based on the growing consensus among educators that a new and better kind of test for licensing teachers was needed.
The paper-and-pencil format of the nte and other teacher examinations has drawn sharp criticism in recent years on the grounds that they discriminate against minorities, fail to measure complex teaching knowledge, and are too removed from actual classroom situations.
Nonetheless, the use of teacher tests for state licensure has expanded rapidly as part of the school-reform movement. In 1981, when Mr. Anrig first came to ets, only eight states used the nte Today, 45 states require some kind of test for entry into teacher-education programs or for initial licensure. And approximately 200,000 prospective teachers take the nte each year.
Mr. Anrig admitted that the ets's existing teacher tests have been "controversial." But he said the organization hoped to benefit from past criticisms in designing its new exams.
The new and still unnamed assessments will provide a comprehensive profile of a teacher's performance in three stages:
Stage one, to be given during or after a student's sophomore year in college, would measure his or her basic skills; it would use a computerized diagnostic assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses.
Stage two, to be taken at the completion of college or of a teacher-training program, would measure how well a student knows his or her subject matter and the principles of teaching.
Depending on the subject area, these tests might include more traditional paper-and-pencil measures as well as computer-assisted exercises, said Carol Anne Dwyer, a senior-development leader who is directing the testing project.
Stage three, to be given after a prospective teacher has spent time in a supervised teaching situation, would measure the ability to teach a subject in the classroom, often known as "pedagogical content knowledge."
Ms. Dwyer predicted that this last phase of the examination might be conducted, in part, in an assessment center. And it could include live exercises, computer simulations, in-class observations of the candidate's performance, and portfolios documenting the teacher's work.
Eventually, Ms. Dwyer predicted, candidates would be able to take such tests at their convenience, with the set of exercises individualized to match their ability level, and with minimal time restrictions.
'Variety of Ways'
Such tests might also prove beneficial for minority students, Mr. Anrig predicted, because they provide "a variety of ways for someone to show what they can do."
But he added that "there are unequal educational opportunities in4the United States."
"To the extent that the tests reflect those," he said, "you will have unequal results."
Ms. Dwyer noted that the tests, in and of themselves, will not improve the quality of classroom teachers, because individual states will still have to set the passing standards required for licensure.
But Mr. Anrig said that they would provide states with much richer and more definitive information about a candidate's performance.
'A High Risk'
The ets expects to spend the next two years exploring how to make such tests practical on a large scale. Some of the models or "prototypes" for such exams will be field-tested in states within a year, Ms. Dwyer predicted.
The firm is developing the exams with advice from its "Teacher Program Council," the majority of whose members are classroom teachers.
In addition, it is working closely with other groups that are trying to develop new models of teacher assessment. These include the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which plans to provide voluntary national certification for more experienced teachers, and the Teacher Assessment Project at Stanford University.
Mr. Anrig said there would be a "transition period" between 1992, when the new tests first become available, and the withdrawal of the nte from the market.
The nte now costs approximately $35 each for the subject-area exams and $50 each for the three-part core battery, which measures a candidate's communication skills, general knowledge, and professional knowledge.
The testing firm is exploring how to create "much more sophisticated" assessments without pricing them out of the market for beginning teachers, Mr. Anrig said. He predicted that the new tests would not cost much more than the nte
The ets is also exploring ways to measure and score these more complicated assessments, particularly since many questions would not have one right answer.
Officials expect to use more than a dozen different psychometric techniques to score the tests, according to Ms. Dwyer. But it will take "considerable research," she said, to tailor these new methods "for this particular application."
"We're taking a high risk on this," said Mr. Anrig. But the time is right for a new exam, he added, both because of advances in test measurement and technology, and because of the recent push to professionalize teaching.