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Published in Print: November 7, 2001, as Unlicensed Teachers in N.Y.C. To Get Test Help

Unlicensed Teachers in N.Y.C. To Get Test Help

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The New York City board of education has hired four test-preparation companies to get teachers ready for the state's mandatory licensing exam.

The board authorized contracts with the vendors last month to provide classes for an estimated 12,000 unlicensed teachers now working in the city's classrooms, said Joyce R. Coppin, the supervision superintendent for the district's Center for Recruitment and Professional Development.

The city's community school districts have also been granted the opportunity to begin offering their own test preparation, she said, though few now plan to do so. The initiative is part of an effort to comply with a state law, aimed primarily at the 1.1 million-student New York City system, that discontinues temporary teacher licenses as of Sept. 1, 2003. At that time, no uncertified teacher will be allowed to teach in the city's classrooms.

Funding for the $1 million project comes from a state grant, Ms. Coppin said, and teachers will be reimbursed up to $2,000 each to cover the cost of the classes.

"This is worth the investment," she said. "These teachers have given satisfactory service to the system. You want to do everything you can to support them to make sure that you can retain them."

About 15 percent of the 80,000 teachers now working in the New York City schools do not have full licenses, according to Ms. Coppin.

"We're under a very short time frame," she said. "Because we have so many teachers, we have to take some extra measures to make sure we're able to keep our teachers."

To obtain permanent teaching licenses, candidates are required to pass a battery of tests that make up the New York State Teacher Certification Examination. The assessments, which are given four times a year, test knowledge of pedagogy and subject matter.

In the past, districts in New York City did not offer test preparation. Some teachers paid for such courses themselves or took part in classes offered by their unions.

Under New York City's program, teachers can choose from classes offered by Kaplan Inc., the Princeton Review Inc., the Center for Professional Performance Enhancement llp, and the Center for Integrated Education Inc. Except for the Princeton Review, which has its headquarters in Princeton, N.J., all of the companies are based in New York City.

Each company will offer a series of classes, lasting from a few days to several weeks.

Test-Taking Strategies

"I know all the companies will be focusing very heavily on test-taking strategies," said Kevin Crossman, an assistant vice president of the Princeton Review. "The majority of programs will be about understanding the format of the test ... and how to pace yourself."

The company estimates that 9,000 of the 12,000 eligible teachers will take part in the program, he said, although how those numbers will be distributed among the four vendors is unclear.

Three of the vendors—Kaplan, the Center for Professional Performance Enhancement, and the Center for Integrated Education—participated in a pilot project last spring that prepared between 4,000 and 5,000 teachers for the certification exam, Ms. Coppin said. Whether their test scores improved is not known, she said.

Educators seemed to know much of the material tested on the exams, but needed help with test- taking techniques, added Marc Bernstein, the president of Kaplan Learning Services, a division of the company. Experts in teacher testing say they are intrigued by the idea of enlisting the companies' help.

"If the [state assessment] is truly a well-designed, valid set of examinations, and the test- preparation people help teachers really demonstrate what they know ... then this is fine," said Lee S. Shulman, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based research organization.

"The burden rests on the test-maker and New York City to make sure these are really good examinations," he added.

Critics, however, argue that the funding could be better spent.

"It seems strange for the board to want to coach new teachers to pass tests at the same time that it is cutting back on professional development that would give them real content knowledge and classroom management skills," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Vol. 21, Issue 10, Page 19

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