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Published in Print: April 25, 2001, as Georgia Regents Raise Standards For Teacher Preparation

Georgia Regents Raise Standards For Teacher Preparation

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The board that governs higher education in Georgia will require all 15 public universities that prepare teachers to raise expectations for prospective educators by setting uniform, high passing rates on mandatory statewide competency exams.

Because the board does not possess the power to enforce the policy, though, it will do little good unless the state commission that recommends and implements certification policies gives it teeth.

Still, the regents' unanimous decision, made last week, represents a step toward holding teacher-preparation programs accountable for their work, said Jan Kettlewell, the assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs for the university system. In addition, it will help them identify students who need assistance, she said. Currently, institutions set their own minimum passing scores on exit exams and consider those scores, among other measures, when recommending candidates for state certification.

"Our guarantee says that any teacher who is prepared by the University of Georgia system has in-depth content knowledge, can manage classrooms well, and has demonstrated success in bringing students to a high level of achievement," Ms. Kettlewell said.

The new policy immediately drew criticism, however.

"There needs to be standards, but they need to be set by individual institutions," said Wilburn A. Campbell, the interim dean of the college of education at Albany State University, a historically black institution in Albany, Ga., that prepares about 100 new educators a year.

"We're already accountable to national accreditation groups, the federal government, and the board of regents," Mr. Campbell said. "Schools should have the right to decide where they are going and how they are going to get there."

Other Action Needed

The new policy, an amendment to a 1998 teacher-preparation improvement package, would require that institutions report an 80 percent passing rate for students of every racial, ethnic, and gender group taking the Praxis II test by the 2006 school year.

That exam, created by the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, assesses prospective teachers' academic-content knowledge. All candidates must currently pass the exam to earn certification to teach in Georgia. Mandatory passing rates vary by the subject-matter test the prospective teacher takes.

Even though the regents will require the higher passing rates, they have no say over who earns certification. The state certification commission could tie its passing rates to the college-accreditation process, Ms. Kettlewell said. Another commission appointed by the governor made that recommendation last December. ("Georgia Proposal Would Put Education Schools to the Test," Dec. 13, 2000.)

"If you lump all students together and report averages, it masks how you're doing with every [demographic] group," Ms. Kettlewell said. "Under this policy, you have a way to monitor the program, and you can put in whatever interventions you need to make sure all demographic groups are successful."

But many in higher education worry that such standardized tests don't accurately measure students' knowledge.

"I had two black graduates last year that did not pass Praxis II on the first attempt, and this year, they were named teachers of the year by their respective school districts," Mr. Campbell said. "Black students do not test well on standardized exams, yet this measurement has been picked out to determine how good a program or teacher is."

Even if multiple measures are used to evaluate prospective teachers, as is required by the board of regents, great importance will be placed on the test scores, said Michael J. Padilla, the associate dean of the college of education at the University of Georgia in Athens. And that, he argued, is a dangerous practice, given that standardized tests provide limited information about test-takers.

Shrinking the Pool?

Exam scores will gain even more weight if program accreditation is tied to them, as was suggested by the Education Reform Study Commission set up by Gov. Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat.

That group drafted the policy adopted last week by the board of regents and recommended shutting down teacher-preparation programs whose graduates perform poorly.

"The fear is that teacher-education programs will stop accepting students who do not do well on these tests— traditionally minorities," Mr. Padilla said.

But Ms. Kettlewell argues that passing scores simply set a minimum bar for performance. Other types of assessments will provide additional in-depth information, she said.

Vol. 20, Issue 32, Page 21

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