New Teacher Tests May Boost Field, Say Backers
New York--Changes in teacher testing and certification could help strengthen the quality of the teaching force and lead to "marked improvements" in student attainment, according to speakers at the annual meeting of the Educational Testing Service.
But skeptics attending the Oct. 29 conference here said they wondered whether too much hope is being pinned on the new assessments and on proposals for the voluntary national certification of teachers.
Noted P. Michael Timpane, president of Teachers College, Columbia University: "The path to an effective teacher-assessment system that is worth the trouble will be tortuous indeed." And its link to student performance will be "tenuous," he said.
The meeting was held two days after the ets announced plans to replace the National Teacher Examinations with a new series of tests beginning in 1992, at a cost of approximately $20 million for research and development. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1988.)
According to ets officials, the decision to scrap the existing multiple-choice tests, which are widely used for the state licensure of teachers, was based on advances in measurement technology and in pedagogical research.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is also planning to create new assessments for the voluntary national certification of teachers.
James A. Kelly, president of the board, estimated that its multiyear research-and-development effort would cost nearly $50 million.
Mr. Kelly argued, however, that the creation of credible national standards for teachers are needed and could have positive effects on the profession.
These, he said, might include: increasing the rigor and coherence of teacher-preparation programs; improving the self-esteem of those who are certified; changing teaching practice more generally; and encouraging greater numbers of talented teachers to remain in the field.
The result of these and other changes, he added, would be "marked improvements" in the quality of student learning.
But Bernard C. Hollister, a former teacher-union president and a member of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, questioned whether districts would be willing to pay for more expensive and better-qualified teachers.
"My feeling, quite frankly, is that this is very utopian," he said after hearing Mr. Kelly's speech, "because districts in Illinois are doing everything they can to move teachers out who are too expensive.''
Mr. Kelly said he thought districts would be motivated to hire the best teachers they could for openings, but he acknowledged that only "time will tell" whether teachers would be willing to become board-certified, or whether school boards would honor that certification.
Lee S. Shulman, professor of education at Stanford University and principal investigator for the na4tional board's Teacher Assessment Project, noted that "these matters start small, they start modestly, and you really can't tell where they're going to go and how far they're going to go."
When the National Board of Medical Examiners gave its first national examinations in 1916, he noted, only 10 candidates showed up to take the tests and only five passed.
Beyond 'Simple' Scores
He argued, however, that major changes in teacher testing are needed in order to move beyond "the simple test score as an indicator of complex teaching performance."
The Teacher Assessment Project is currently trying to create examples of "structured portfolios," which might be used to document a teacher's performance in the field, and which could be linked to a follow-up evaluation in an assessment center.
Because such portfolios would require candidates to have every entry co-signed or commented upon by a mentor-teacher, Mr. Shulman said, they could encourage greater collegiality in education and feed into the creation of supervised residencies or internships for new teachers.
Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the rand Corporation's education and human-resources program, added that the creation of structured induction programs for all new teachers would be "absolutely critical," if the new generation of tests is to be fairer and more reliable than the current one.
Several teachers in the audience also noted that if the new testing efforts are to succeed, they will have to surmount the resentment of teachers toward testing in general, based on their past experiences.
Teachers "see you as the enemy," one member of the audience told a panel of testing experts. "You're coming in and you're putting in another hurdle for us to overcome. ... [Teachers] just see you as another burden."
Another conference participant, who had been a classroom teacher for 16 years, said she looked forward to national-board certification because it would give the profession a "legimate aspect."
But she added that certification must be accompanied by better working conditions, salaries, and benefits if it is to be meaningful.
Despite such doubts and cautions, Mr. Timpane said, the move to teacher testing "is substantial and durable" and its effects on the profession will be "unavoidably large."
"The fact remains that every profession in our society must develop and operate a professional assessment system" that satisfies the public, he asserted. And in going about that, he added, "we have not a moment to spare."