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Published in Print: December 12, 2001, as Threatened Texas College Preserves Its Right to Prepare Teachers

Threatened Texas College Preserves Its Right to Prepare Teachers

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Tiny Rio Grande College in Uvalde, Texas, has retained its right to recommend prospective teachers for certification, after the state threatened to strip the institution of the privilege.

The college would have been the first to lose its credentials under a 1998 state measure considered to be one of the toughest teacher-preparation accountability laws in the nation.

Frank W. Abbott

Rio Grande students posted overall passing rates of 80 percent on the mandatory teacher-licensing exams—scores high enough to ensure the future of the program for another year, according to Frank W. Abbott, the dean of the college.

Prospective teachers attending the 800-student institution, a satellite of Sul Ross State University, had not satisfied the required 70 percent passing rates for three years in a row, a status that had placed the school's program "under review" by the state. The program would have lost its accreditation had scores not improved in the 2000-01 academic year. ("High Noon,", April 18, 2001.)

"I turned the corner and did a lot of those little silent yippees," upon hearing the news this fall, Mr. Abbott said. To make the improvement occur, he said, "a lot of people did an awful lot of work."

The Texas law mandates that every racial and ethnic group enrolled in the state's 100 teacher-training programs achieve a passing rate of at least 70 percent on a battery of academic- content and pedagogy tests. In addition, each cohort of test-takers must achieve a cumulative passing rate of at least 70 percent.

State legislators say such requirements are needed to protect children from bad teachers.

Hispanic and male candidates at Rio Grande College had not met the outlined goals on the Examination for the Certification of Educators Test, or EXCET, during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 academic years, and throughout several rounds of testing in 2000-01. A state oversight team had been working with the institution to identify the program's trouble spots and instigate change.

Candidates Shut Out

The college used a multifaceted strategy to help students improve their scores, faculty members reported. Professors learned to better incorporate test materials into the curriculum, they said, and additional test-preparation workshops were provided. Many students received tutoring.

College officials say they also impressed upon students the importance of the exam, and increased the minimum passing score on the reading portion of the institution's basic-skills entrance exam for those seeking future licensure as educators.

In the end, administrators also denied 35 prospective teachers permission to take the EXCET for fear they would fail and sink passing rates, Mr. Abbott said.

The college's tactics have come under fire from some in the larger education community who fear professors will narrow instruction by teaching to the test. They also worry that aspiring Hispanic teachers who do not typically score as well as their non-Hispanic white peers on standardized tests will be blocked from entering the profession in a state where bilingual teachers are desperately needed.

Mr. Abbott acknowledged that the strategies have flaws, but added that the steps were recommended by a state oversight team and have proved useful for other Texas colleges and universities.

Despite Rio Grande College's recent success, many educators at the college and elsewhere in Texas contend that the test itself is misconceived or is being misused.

"The test is ridiculous," charged Timothy Wilson, a Rio Grande professor of education, who advocates using multiple measures to gauge teachers' abilities.

The multiple-choice exam is designed to be complicated, and illuminates only a handful of skills necessary in a complex job like teaching, he argued. For example, he said, it cannot measure a candidate's ability to nurture young children.

No Complaints?

But the state contends that the system is a good one.

Patrick Shaughnessy, a spokesman for the state board that accredits teacher-preparation programs, said he has heard no complaints.

"Eighty-eight percent of all students taking the EXCET passed on their first attempt," he said.

According to the state's latest figures, 75 teacher-preparation programs are accredited, 11 are under review, and 14 have yet to be evaluated. Only Wiley College, a private institution in Marshall, Texas, is in jeopardy of losing its credentials in the upcoming academic year.

Vol. 21, Issue 15, Page 20

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