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Teaching Board Awards 5-Year Assessment Contract to ETS

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The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has awarded a five-year contract to the Educational Testing Service to design and administer its assessments.

The decision last month by the board's 63-member governing body marks a turning point for the organization, which was founded in 1987 to set high standards for accomplished teaching and certify teachers who met them.

The privately organized group has certified 268 teachers using a complex process that has involved a variety of different contractors charged with designing assessments, giving them to candidates, and conducting research on the tests.

Now, those functions will be turned over to the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS, the nation's largest testing company, which also administers the Scholastic Assessment Test, Advanced Placement tests, various graduate examinations, and certification tests in other professions.

"We need this kind of solid experience and competence," said James A. Kelly, the president of the Detroit-based teaching-standards board. "There's no reason we should try to invent the wheel 100 different ways at once when it's already there in better form than we could possibly invent."

The board will retain control over all policy decisions, Mr. Kelly said, and its members will approve the contents of each assessment, the scoring procedures, and the method for determining which candidates to certify.

Teachers will continue to have a major voice in setting policy and determining the standards for accomplished teaching that are used in developing the assessments, he said. Practicing classroom teachers also will score the assessments.

"Nothing will change in terms of teacher involvement, oversight, and ultimately, teacher control," Mr. Kelly said.

The Educational Testing Service already has a contract to develop the national board's assessments for high school math teachers.

Nancy S. Cole, the president of the ETS, said the nonprofit company jumped at the chance to bid on the contract, which gives the ETS $6.5 million for its first 12 to 18 months of work.

"We're very excited about this association with the national board," she said. "We see this as cutting-edge performance assessment and some of the most difficult and challenging performance assessment being done anywhere."

Challenge for ETS

From the start, most educators and testing experts familiar with the national board have assumed that it eventually would contract with a testing company, rather than try to create a separate system for certifying thousands of teachers each year.

Administering the voluntary certification system would have been "a very complex process that would have diverted them from their primary goals," Ms. Cole said.

The initial charge for the ETS is to complete the six assessments that will be offered during the 1996-97 school year and administer them to candidates.

It also will participate in "joint planning activities" with the national board, including discussions of how to reduce the $2,000 fee now charged to candidates for certification.

The testing company will use subcontractors for some of the packages, Mr. Kelly said. The National Science Foundation has shown interest in financing a science-assessment project, for example, that would be coordinated by the ETS but designed by WestEd, a regional federal education research lab in San Francisco.

Although ETS tests increasingly include such performance elements as essays, Ms. Cole said the national board assessments would be "by far the biggest and most challenging" such work for the company. The company has been best known over the years for its standardized, multiple-choice tests.

The national board's assessments have been given in a two-step process. First, teachers assembled a portfolio from their daily classroom activities that included videotapes and written commentaries on their teaching. Then they visited an assessment center to undergo a battery of written examinations.

In its successful bid to operate the board's system, the ETS proposed using Sylvan Technology Centers as the assessment-center sites. More than 220 such centers operate nationwide, including at least one in every state.

Using Sylvan

Some members of the governing board initially balked at an association with Sylvan, which tutors children at its separate Sylvan Learning Centers. The for-profit company also has received school contracts in some cities to bring low-income students up to grade level, which some educators have criticized as a privatization of public services.

Testing at the Sylvan Technology Centers--which also give examinations in such fields as aviation and nursing--will make it possible for candidates to use word processing software to complete the assessments.

Miles Myers, the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English in Urbana, Ill., and a close follower of the national board's work, said he was not surprised that the ETS won the contract.

"The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has played a very significant role in this area of performance assessment," he said. "I'm curious to see what its future role will be."

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