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Alabama Governor, Union Reach Accord on Teacher Testing

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The settlement last week of a dispute between the Alabama Education Association and Gov. Guy Hunt over teacher testing has apparently cleared the way for passage of the Governor's education-reform bill.

The teachers' union and the Governor's office agreed last week to eliminate a controversial antidiscrimination clause from the section of the reform measure that calls for a certification test for new teachers, said Roy Johnson, an aea staff member.

The issue has been the only major sticking point to emerge as the sweeping reform package, hammered out in months of bipartisan negotiations, moves quickly4through the legislature.

The bill also calls for intradistrict school choice, a core curriculum,ter school-based decisionmaking, and a longer school year. (See Education Week, May 15, 1991.)

The disagreement centered on a provision prohibiting teacher tests from being used to discriminate intentionally on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin.

In considering the bill late last month, the Senate Education Committee approved a union-backed amendment to delete the word "intentionally" from that section.

"We think the litmus test should be whether or not the test discriminates, not whether [test administrators] intend to discriminate," said8Mr. Johnson.

The Hunt administration opposed that change, however, arguing that including the intentionality standard would create "the least-restrictive environment" for the installation of a new precertification test, said Anita Buckley, the Governor's education liaison.

The two sides compromised by deleting the antidiscrimination sentence from the teacher-testing provision. Instead, they agreed to add a new section stating that none of the programs in the bill would discriminate against minorities.

The word "intentionally" does not appear in the new section, Mr. Johnson explained.

The House Education Committee last week adopted the compromise proposal, together with other Senate amendments, and did not approve any further changes, according to Gene Murphree, a legislative analyst in the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The House panel was expected to report the bill to the floor late last week. The bill is also on the calendar before the full Senate.

Even if the bill is enacted, however, the teacher-testing program will still face a potential legal hurdle.

In 1985 a federal judge, ruling in response to a suit backed by the aea, threw out the state's precertification exam and set up stringent antidiscrimination guidelines for any new test, which the judge would have to approve.

The Hunt administration is concerned that the court order's stringent requirements could make it difficult for any standardized test--including the widely used National Teacher Examination--to meet with the judge's approval, Ms. Buckley said. The Governor plans to try to get the order changed to be more flexible.

Mr. Johnson said he did not know whether the aea would formally endorse a change in the court order. But he noted that the reform bill's teacher-testing section creates a new state panel, the Professional Teachers Standards Commission, that would probably take responsibility for pursuing that change.

The union is expected to be represented on that commission, he added.

Alabama is the only Southern state without a precertification test for teachers.

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