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Published in Print: January 21, 2004, as N. C. Drops Assessment For Out-of-State Teachers

N. C. Drops Assessment For Out-of-State Teachers

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Teachers who want to work in North Carolina and have credentials elsewhere and are deemed "highly qualified" by state officials will no longer be required to take standardized tests to earn their licenses as of July 1.

Critics say the move lowers standards in a place renowned for superior accountability in teacher qualifications.

Supporters, meanwhile, argued that the new reciprocity agreement—made final by the state board of education this month—eliminates bureaucracy, and thus encourages educators to work in the state, which has a shortage of such professionals.

Asking proven educators to take a test for licensing is insulting and time-consuming, they contend. Moreover, they say, the cost to test-takers—up to $400 a person—is a disincentive for many talented young people.

State board members did not return calls last week, but Chairman Howard Lee was quoted as telling The News & Observer in Raleigh that "we don't expect this will compromise teaching quality."

"We haven't found ... assessments resulted in higher quality of teachers," he added.

The state board also agreed to throw out mandatory assessments for teacher applicants who live in North Carolina, but that change requires the approval of lawmakers.

The move to ditch the requirement for out-of-state teachers was applauded by many in both the K-12 and higher education communities, though some worry that it signals a trend toward a loosening of standards for teachers.

"Over a 20-year period of time, [North Carolina] ... has continued to move toward a true professionalization of teaching," said Barnett Berry, the president and chief executive officer of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, a nonprofit group based in Chapel Hill that tracks teacher-hiring trends. "I'm seeing backsliding."

An Attraction

While the current system poses some problems, he said, dumping the assessment lowers the bar, making it easier for less qualified educators to slip into the state.

Currently, all teachers who hold an out-of-state license must take the Praxis II subject-matter exam to earn a license in North Carolina.

As a result of the new provision, though, any teacher who is "fully licensed and highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act in a state other than North Carolina will be exempt from the assessment. Definitions of "highly qualified," however, vary dramatically by state ("Rigor Disputed in Standards for Teachers," Jan. 14, 2004.)

The federal law mandates that teachers in the core subjects be fully licensed through a traditional or alternative-certification program and have demonstrated subject-matter competence by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

Getting rid of the testing mandate makes North Carolina districts more competitive nationally, said Toni M. Patterson, the assistant superintendent for human resources for the 109,000-student Wake County public schools in Raleigh, which brings in half of its 800 new teachers each year from outside the state.

"The new reciprocity guidelines will attract teachers," Ms. Patterson said. "We'll eliminate a lot of red tape that's been associated with getting employed. We'll also have the opportunity to build a broader pool from which to select candidates."

Each year, North Carolina hires 10,000 new teachers; only one-third of them graduate from university-based teacher- training programs in the state, Mr. Berry said. A handful of others come into the field through alternative-certification programs in the state.

The change in policy "is a wonderful idea," declared Paula W. Mickey, the personnel and community schools director for the 1,400-student Camden County, N.C., public schools in the northeastern part of the state. "When you've got an out-of- state teacher who has worked for 20 years, it is hard to tell them they have to take a test when you know they're an excellent teacher."

Half of the rural district's 12 new hires this school year were recruited from outside North Carolina, she said. They had an average of 16 years of experience.

Trusting Others

Dropping the assessment, however, is a risky proposition when it means trusting other states and the federal government to have standards similar to your own state's, Mr. Berry said. The No Child Left Behind law, for example, emphasizes academic-content knowledge for teachers but says little about pedagogical know-how, long considered an important indicator in North Carolina, he added.

Ms. Mickey said districts will continue to look at a host of variables when hiring teachers, even if they do not consider evidence provided on a standardized exam. Administrators review transcripts, conduct interviews with former colleagues, and otherwise examine candidates' histories to make sure the jobs are a good fit.

Vol. 23, Issue 19, Pages 20,24

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