Low Pass Rate Prompts Review of Texas Teacher Test

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The Texas Board of Education is expected this week to review the results of the state's first master-teacher examination in the wake of complaints from teachers' organizations that too few of their members had passed the test.

Of the 2,603 teachers who last fall took the examination--which is required for teachers who want to advance to the highest rung on the state's career ladder--only 42, or less than 2 percent, earned passing scores.

The Texas Classroom Teachers Association--one of the four organizations that represent the Lone Star State's 197,000 classroom teachers--is urging that the board lower the passing score on the two-part test.

The TCTA, an independent organization, argues that the results of the test do not reflect the skills of the teachers who took it.

But representatives of the other teachers' organizations say they are not calling on the board to change the standards for passing.

"Our feeling is that teachers, given the opportunity over time to retake it, are going to do well," said John O'Sullivan, secretary-treasurer of the Texas Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

"We're not going to in any way contribute to a perception on the part of the public that teachers are not up to any challenge that might be given to them," Mr. O'Sullivan added.

Legal Wrangling

But there is doubt whether Texas teachers will continue to take the voluntary test, which measures a combination of pedagogical and subject-area knowledge.

In order to qualify for "level four," or master, status, teachers also are required to take an oral examination, which has yet to be developed.

The legislature last year approved a bill eliminating the oral examination. But when that measure was overturned on a technical matter by the state supreme court, the oral-test requirement was reinstated.

The legal wrangling delayed the implementation of the last level of the career-ladder program, which began in 1984. Teachers were to be placed on level four this school year.

Until teachers can fulfill all of the requirements for master status, they will not be able to receive the money associated with reaching the top rung of the ladder. When combined with the bonuses awarded for reaching lower levels on the ladder, master teachers could receive up to $6,000 a year in extra pay.

Given the confusion surrounding the career-ladder program, "You had to be sort of esoteric and have personal motivation for taking the test, because you really don't have any assurance it's ever going to be implemented or that you will ever get your money," observed Brad Rit ter, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.

The T.S.T.A., the largest of the four teachers' groups, believes that the state board should take another look at the test itself, Mr. Ritter said.

A bill currently pending before the House public-education commit tee would again do away with the oral test and simplify the career-ladder process. But education lobbyists say that the legislature is so preoccupied with drafting a new school- finance formula that it may not turn its attention to the career ladder. (See related story, page 21.)

"The simplest solution in many members' minds would be to elimi nate it and put the money into salaries or other benefits," said Doug L Rogers, executive director of the independent Association of Texas Professional Educators.

The Texas Education Agency has not notified teachers who took the November examination of their scores. Instead, the agency is awaiting the state board's decision this week, said Pamela Tackett, director of programs for teacher assessment.

Teacher representatives said they also are concerned that only one of the 234 minority teachers who took the test received a passing score.

Ms. Tackett said the state agency is "continuously aware of and reviewing" the scores of teachers who are members of minority groups.

She pointed out that the test, which cost approximately $500,000 to develop, was designed in collaboration with teachers and also was scored by trained teachers.

Aimed at 'Highest Caliber'

An advisory committee earlier had recommended that the state L board set the passing score for the test at 62 percent for the multiple- choice section and 12 out of 18 points for the written portion.

Instead, the state board set the required minimum score at 85 percent for the multiple-choice section and 16 out of 18 points on the written part. Ms. Tackett said that board members were influenced in their decision by members of the legislature, who argued that only 10 percent of the teaching force should qualify for master status.

The board looked for a standard to ensure that they would get only the very highest caliber teachers at level four," she noted.

The state agency is on "pins and needles" awaiting the board's decision, Ms. Tackett said, adding that she had "no idea" whether the passing scores would be revised.

Since the career-ladder program began, teachers have been concerned that the number of people at each rung of the ladder was being artificially limited by school districts concerned about the cost of the bonuses, according to Mr. Ritter of the TSTA, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

The program is paid for with a combination of state and local money. Although all teachers at various levels must meet minimum state standards, districts also can add criteria that teachers must meet to qualify.

"Given that backdrop," Mr. Ritter said, "one might reasonably have suspicions that the master-teacher examination process itself ended up being designed to exclude as many people as possible." Ms. Tackett said the number of teachers who took the first master- teacher examination was lower than had been expected. That was due, she said, to teachers' confusion over the program.

Teachers had to pay $145 to take the test, and, in some cases, they also were faced with travel expenses to reach testing sites.

The state agency has offered to refund the fees of teachers who did not pass the test administered in San Antonio, or allow them to retake the test at no charge, because of com plaints about inadequate lighting and seating at the testing site.

Vol. 10, Issue 24, Page 5

Published in Print: March 6, 1991, as Low Pass Rate Prompts Review of Texas Teacher Test
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