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Georgia Ends Performance-Based Tests for Teachers

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Georgia's "performance-based" teacher-certification system, one of the first to require teachers to demonstrate their skills in an actual classroom, came to an end last week.

The state board of education voted June 14 to abandon the controversial, decade-old program. As a result, prospective Georgia teachers who graduate from an accredited teacher-training program and pass a written subject-matter test can now earn a renewable teaching certificate without having to prove they can teach.

State school officials said they were scrapping the classroom tests because they had become redundant. A newer statewide evaluation program requires principals to conduct yearly on-the-job assessments of all teachers. While the evaluations are not linked to licensing, teachers must do well on them get pay raises or continue working for the school district.

"We think we can still screen out bad teachers that way," said Paul Vale, associate state superintendent in the state education department.

Critics warned last week, however, that scrapping "performance-based" tests for licensing could lessen the quality of Georgia's teachers.

"It's a step backwards," said William Tomlinson, director of the educational-development division of the Georgia Office for Planning and Budget. "My feeling is that the test measured essential skills that a teacher should be able to demonstrate."

Instituted in 1980, the Georgia test was widely credited with helping to pioneer state efforts to reduce the reliance on "paper-and-pencil" tests to assess teachers. Since then, Virginia has moved to require performancebased tests for recertification, according to the Education Commission of the States. And at least two other states--Minnesota and Connecticut--are moving to make such tests a condition for initial certification.

"Georgia's assessment was pathbreaking when it happened," said Arthur Wise, director of the RAND Corporation's Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession. But he added that "they had the right idea but the wrong instrument."

Mr. Wise said Georgia's test was more problematic than some of the assessments that came later. "Georgia relied upon a flying squad of people who came in and took a snapshot of a few particular days and assessed teachers' performances against a checklist of behaviors," he said.

The assessments were conducted by a fellow teacher, a local administrator, and a state evaluation specialist, according to officials. Separately, the evaluators observed the novice teacher over three classroom periods and rated him or her on 120 different teaching behaviors.

Almost from the start, the test stirred resentment among teachers, particularly experienced ones who had moved from other states. They complained that the test, which also required a portfolio with seven days of lesson plans, was cumbersome.

"Young people who got nothing but A's in high school and college would take the test and fail," said Mr. Vale. "They just couldn't take it."

Of the 30,000 teachers who took the test over the decade, state officials said, nearly 200 failed it six times--the maximum number of tries allowed. Another 13 percent quit before using up all six opportunities.

The test was also the target of an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by a teacher who had repeatedly failed it.

In response to such problems, the legislature this year ordered school officials to drop the test, known as the Teacher Performance Assessment Instrument. Lawmakers authorized that it be replaced with the existing on-the-job evaluations by principals.

But Superintendent of Schools Werner Rogers recommended against using that approach for licensing teachers. State school officials said the on-the-job evaluation form, known as the Georgia Teacher Observation Instrument, was a poor substitute because it might not withstand potential legal challenges.

"We had questions about using that instrument for something it was not developed for," Mr. Vale said.

Less rigorous than the Teacher Performance Assessment Test, the on-the-job evaluations are conducted solely by school principals, who undergo eight days of training to perform them. They observe the teacher over two to three classroom periods.

An estimated 99 percent of teachers evaluated pass. Remedial assistance is given to those who do not.

One problem with that method, noted Mr. Tomlinson, is that teachers who fail can simply move on to another school district.

"The person at that point has a renewable license and he or she can go to another school system," he noted.

He also said principals might be reluctant to give poor ratings to teachers trained in subjects for which there are few qualified teachers.

The Georgia Association of Educators, however, bid "good riddance" to the classroom test.

"The time, effort, and funds will be better spent providing extensive training to those responsible for evaluating," said Luvenia Jackson, the union's president.

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