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Nevada Judge Upholds Basic-Skills Test, Gives Teachers Course-Credit Alterna

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Nevada teachers who fail a required basic-skills test can instead take college courses to satisfy competency requirements, a state judge ruled last week.

But District Court Judge Don P. Chairez also ruled that the state has a right to test teachers who want a license and that the Pre-Professional Skills Test is valid.

"The decision is sort of a win-win for everyone," said Martin Kravitz, a lawyer representing the Clark County Teachers Association and a group of teachers who had failed the test. "The best part is that the jobs [of teachers who have not passed the skills test] have been saved."

The Commission on Professional Standards in Education is to discuss the ruling this week and decide whether to appeal it, said Mary Peterson, the interim state school superintendent.

The union filed suit last month, charging that state officials were using the skills test improperly. They argued that it was not intended to be the sole criterion for deciding a teacher's competency, and that it was designed for beginning teachers, not veterans.

They also complained that teachers must pass tests unrelated to what they teach. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1994.)

The judge ruled that teachers who have not passed the P.P.S.T. have until June 15 to either pass it or complete courses approved by the licensing commission. After June 15, teachers who have not met the requirements will lose their licenses and their jobs.

Jobs On The Line

Mr. Kravitz and Ms. Peterson said 28 Clark County teachers have not passed the test. State officials say a few teachers from other districts may be in the same position.

The commission, authorized by the legislature to set licensing rules, decided that beginning teachers and teachers new to Nevada would receive provisional licenses and have two years to pass the P.P.S.T., as well as tests on education theory and the subject areas they earned degrees in.

Although he ruled that the P.P.S.T. is valid, Judge Chairez said the process used to validate it was "suspect" because two commission members had thought it would be used only for college students and beginning teachers.

Under the ruling, teachers will take tests in the subject areas in which they teach, rather than those they earned degrees in.

Although he ruled that the minimum scores the state set for passage of the P.P.S.T. are fair, Judge Chairez said he found it "embarrassing" that Nevada has the second-lowest licensing standards in the country, and recommended that the passing scores be raised.

The judge dismissed another part of the suit, which asked that Rick Milsap, the president of the Nevada State Education Association, be dropped from the licensing commission.

Although he fills a slot intended for a full-time classroom teacher and holds a full-time job with the state teachers' union, the judge found his appointment to be legal.

Bob Broniecki, the president of the Clark County Classroom Teachers Association, said the ruling will have a "far-reaching impact," as schools have to hire 1,000 teachers a year to keep up with the state's high growth rate.

Ms. Peterson said she is pleased that the judge recognized the validity of the P.P.S.T., and called his suggestion to raise passing scores "insightful." But she criticized the idea of allowing teachers to substitute college courses for passage of the test, noting that "these people have taken coursework before."

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