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Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as Mass. Reacts to More Test Data; Teacher Proposal Outlined

Mass. Reacts to More Test Data; Teacher Proposal Outlined

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A school-by-school breakdown of scores on Massachusetts' first-ever exam for licensing new teachers is forcing some education schools to take a hard look at their curricula, even as state officials propose creating one of the nation's most intensive programs of teacher recruitment and training.

While individual test-takers' scores on the April test were issued earlier this summer, the state education department released results by school on July 23.

The 59 percent overall failure rate had already rippled through the state and made headlines nationwide, but the data on how individual colleges and universities in the state performed took many higher education officials by surprise.

Nearly 1,800 prospective teachers took the eight-hour test in April and, although interim Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll cautioned that scores from colleges where only a small sample of students took the test "need to be interpreted carefully," he asked college leaders to make changes in their programs where they could.

"I urge the institutions of higher education to accept the data for what it is, which is a snapshot of performance on one round of testing," he said in a statement, "and now analyze it and use it to strengthen areas of need."

In addition, Mr. Driscoll, along with acting Gov. Paul Cellucci, a Republican, and top lawmakers, last week unveiled the state's--and possibly the nation's--most aggressive plan yet to attract, train, and mentor top teachers.

$20,000 Bonuses?

The proposal, known as the 12-62 Plan for its intent to reach from middle school--or age 12--to retirement, would cost a total of between $5 million and $10 million, state officials say, funds they say could be drawn from the state's $1 billion surplus.

It incorporates a widely publicized proposal by state Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham to grant new teachers $20,000 signing bonuses, which would be spread over the first few years of their careers, new scholarships and loan-forgiveness programs, and a more streamlined certification process.

The plan, which Mr. Driscoll drafted with input from other state leaders, also proposes a new "master teacher corps" through which the state would reimburse and reward those teachers who complete the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards requirements and an additional content test.

In order to be enacted, different parts of the plan would require the approval of either the state board of education--which could take up the proposals next month--or the legislature, which has recessed until January.

A Confirmation

On the school-by-school analysis of teacher-test scores, one of the institutions with the poorest showing was Northeastern University in Boston. Only three--or 17.6 percent--of the school's 17 teacher-candidates passed both the exam's reading and writing subtests.

The university's president, Richard M. Freeland, said the scores represented one in a series of "wake-up calls."

"The scores confirmed what we've known for some time: that the education programs here and elsewhere are not as strenuous as they need to be," he said in an interview last week. "Well before the testing results were released, we revamped our master's program, raised freshman admission standards, and reworked our undergraduate curriculum....The test makes the case that we should redouble our efforts."

Many other schools didn't fare much better than Northeastern: Only 22.2 percent of Springfield College's 63 candidates passed both the reading and writing portions of the Communications and Literacy Skills Test; 26.8 of Westfield State College's 84 candidates passed; 30 percent of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' 20 candidates passed; 32.9 percent of Bridgewater State College's 146 candidates passed; and 33.8 percent of Salem State College's 71 candidates passed.

Administrators at Springfield College said that since the scores were released they have put together a panel that will examine how students performed on each section of the test to determine how required courses can be adjusted to improve results.

"Springfield College has a long history of producing quality teachers," said Gretchen A. Brockmeyer, the associate provost and associate vice president for student affairs at the private college. "We'll look at testing results as they come back and will determine what sort of enhancements and changes need to be made in the curriculum."

Results from the second round of teacher tests, administered July 11, are forthcoming.

Boston University Chancellor John R. Silber, who as the state school board chairman has led the drive to raise the academic bar for students and teachers, saw his university post a 65.7 percent passing rate among its 68 teaching candidates.

In a statement, Mr. Silber said that the teacher tests "were not difficult, and, therefore, the scores are even more appalling than they might at first seem."

He added that although BU students scored relatively high, officials there were not happy with the results and have set a higher standard for future tests: If bu students don't manage a 90 percent pass rate within the next two years, he said, university officials will consider abolishing the education program.

Only two of 56 Massachusetts institutions whose students or graduates took the spring exam had perfect scores, according to education department figures: the Harvard University graduate school of education and Wellesley College, although a total of only 13 students from those schools took the test.

The next-highest passing score went to Tufts University, where 81.3 percent of the 16 candidates passed.

Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 14

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