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Published in Print: July 8, 1998, as Mass. Chief Resigns in Protest Amid Test Flap

Mass. Chief Resigns in Protest Amid Test Flap

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Amid a political Ping-Pong match in which Massachusetts officials set, then lowered, then lifted again the passing score for the state's first-ever exam for licensing new teachers, Frank W. Haydu III stepped down last week as interim commissioner of education.

After declaring that politics associated with the upcoming gubernatorial election had influenced the state school board's decisions on the teacher tests, Mr. Haydu announced his resignation at the start of a board meeting July 1.

The board then voted 6-1 to restore the test's passing grade to a higher standard endorsed by acting Gov. Paul Cellucci, who had urged the board to reconsider an earlier vote that lowered the mark.

"I am not, and I never was a politician," Mr. Haydu, a businessman and former state board member, told local reporters the evening before the vote. "The teachers' test is proof that the commissioner of education cannot avoid the political race that is going on."

Under the board's restoration of the higher standard--a level originally recommended by a statewide panel of educators--59 percent of the 1,800 prospective teachers who took the exam in April do not pass. The decision reversed the board's earlier vote to set the standard at a lower level at which only 44 percent of the teacher candidates would have flunked, as recommended by Mr. Haydu.

The teacher candidates who failed the eight-hour exam, which measured literacy, communication skills, and knowledge of subject matter, can retake it until they pass. The test is scheduled to be offered again this month.

Coinciding with the board's vote for the higher passing mark, Gov. Cellucci, a Republican, proposed legislation that would require all the state's current teachers to pass the test in order to keep their certification. Teachers who did not pass the test after their second attempt would have their licenses revoked.

"We must demand excellence from our teachers--all our teachers--if we are to have excellence in the classroom," Mr. Cellucci said in a statement announcing the proposal.

'Knee-Jerk Reaction'

John R. Silber, the state board's chairman, denied Mr. Haydu's charge that the decision to hold a second vote on the teacher tests stemmed from political pressure from Mr. Cellucci, the state's former lieutenant governor who is seeking election to a full term as governor in November.

The board was responding to the widespread public protest that followed the initial passage of a lowered standard, Mr. Silber said last week.

"It's totally dishonest to say that the request from the governor was political interference," he added. "I'm not sorry [Mr. Haydu] left. He so distanced himself from the board on one hand and reality on the other that it didn't make any sense for him to stay on."

The permanence of the board's earlier, lower standard was already in question early last week when Rep. Harold M. Lane Jr. and Sen. Robert A. Antonioni, the Democratic co-chairmen of the legislature's joint education committee, filed legislation that, if passed, would have restored the original, higher standard.

But though he supports the higher standards on tests for new teachers, Mr. Lane dismissed the governor's proposal to test all current teachers as a "knee-jerk reaction" to the announcement of the low teacher-test scores.

The resignation of Mr. Haydu, who had held the state chief's post for four months, should "give us reason to pause and think about what's happening," Mr. Lane said. "We've lost more than we've gained with his resignation."

Partial Solution

As Massachusetts becomes one of the last states to install an exam requirement in the certification process for new teachers, lawmakers must be sure they don't view the test as a cure-all, some education experts warn.

Accountability gets people's attention, but the test is only a partial solution to the state's need for a complete overhaul of the way it trains new teachers, said William H. Guenther, the president of the Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, based in Cambridge, Mass.

The test's high failure rate should not be confused with high standards for teachers, said Linda Darling-Hammond, the executive director of the New York City-based National Commission on Teaching & America's Future.

"For all this to be worthwhile, you have to go the next step and see if someone's effective in the classroom," she said. "Otherwise, you might be sorting people in and out of teaching on grounds that are not optimal."

Vol. 17, Issue 42, Page 20

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