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SAT Designer Hired To Test Teachers

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The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has awarded a five-year contract to the Educational Testing Service to design and administer its assessments. The decision earlier this summer by the board's 63-member governing body marks a turning point for the organization, which was founded in 1987 to set high standards for accomplished teaching and to certify teachers who meet them.

The privately organized group has certified 268 teachers using a complex process that has involved a variety of different contractors charged with designing assessments, giving them to candidates, and conducting research on the tests. Now, those functions will be turned over to the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS, the nation's largest testing company, which also administers the Scholastic Assessment Test, Advanced Placement tests, various graduate examinations, and certification tests in other professions.

"We need this kind of solid experience and competence,'' said James Kelly, president of the Detroit-based teaching-standards board. "There's no reason we should try to invent the wheel 100 different ways at once when it's already there in better form than we could possibly invent.''

The board will retain control over all major decisions, Kelly said. Teachers will continue to have a strong voice in setting policy and determining the standards for accomplished teaching that are used in developing the assessments. Practicing classroom teachers also will score the assessments. "Nothing will change in terms of teacher involvement, oversight, and ultimately, teacher control,'' Kelly said.

Nancy Cole, president of the ETS, said the nonprofit company jumped at the chance to bid on the contract, which gives the ETS $6.5 million for its first 12 to 18 months of work. "We're very excited about this association with the national board,'' she said. "We see this as cutting-edge performance assessment and some of the most difficult and challenging performance assessment being done anywhere.''

From the start, most educators and testing experts familiar with the national board have assumed that it eventually would contract with a testing company rather than try to create a separate system for certifying thousands of teachers each year.

The firm's initial job is to complete the six assessments that will be offered during the 1996-97 school year and administer them to candidates. It also will participate in "joint planning activities'' with the national board, including discussions of how to reduce the $2,000 fee now charged to candidates for certification.

Although ETS has been best known over the years for its standardized, multiple-choice tests, the company's exams increasingly include performance elements such as essays. Still, the national board's assessments would be "by far the biggest and most challenging'' work in performance assessments the company has undertaken, Cole said.

--Ann Bradley

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