Washington State To Start Testing Its Teachers

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Washington state is poised to begin testing prospective teachers under a bill expected to be signed by Gov. Gary Locke.

The testing measure passed March 10 in the last hours of the regular legislative session. It blends a 4-year-old bill calling for teacher tests with legislation to form a professional-standards board to oversee the testing program—an approach that broke the logjam over opposition to teacher testing in the state.

"We got a lot of feedback, particularly for teacher testing, that people wanted that to be under the standards board," said Jennifer Wallace, the education policy adviser to the Democratic governor. "When it comes to setting cutoff scores and selecting items, they wanted to ensure that educators were the ones doing that."

The new Professional Educator Standards Board would advise the state board of education on a wide range of issues related to teaching, including recruitment, retention, licensure, mentoring, professional development, and assessment. It would replace six advisory boards that now split those duties among them. The new board would have 19 members, appointed by the governor to four-year terms, seven of whom would be public school teachers.

The Washington Education Association, the 74,500-member state affiliate of the National Education Association, backed the bill on the condition that current classroom teachers not be tested.

But Lee Ann Prielipp, the president of the WEA, said she was concerned about the method specified for selecting the members of the panel, which under the bill must be done by June. The governor would pick four teachers from lists of names provided by the Democratic and Republican caucuses in both the state House and Senate, an approach she fears could lead later to political gridlock on the board.

"He wants to make this board work," Ms. Prielipp said of the Gov. Locke. "He understands our push to make teaching a profession."

When it comes to testing, the professional-standards board would have the authority to issue a request for proposals from test developers for both basic-skills and subject- matter tests. Washington state has been one of 11 states that don't require either type of test for teachers.

By Sept. 1, 2001, the board would begin pilot testing of a basic-skills test. The following fall, the test is to be required for admission to approved teacher education programs in the state and for out-of-state teachers to get licenses in Washington.

The tests of teachers' knowledge of their subjects are to be pilot-tested in September 2002 and would be required for licenses to teach particular subjects by 2003.

Cheap Fix?

The Washington state affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education was dismayed at the testing requirement for new teachers, said Margit McGuire, the president of the Washington Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.

Ms. McGuire, the director of teacher education at Seattle University, a private Jesuit institution, argued that the creation of the standards board would undermine the state's efforts to take a systematic look at teacher quality. The state is a partner in that effort with the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future and has not completed its analysis, which was intended to shape a package of future legislative recommendations, she said.

"I'm pretty disillusioned at this point," Ms. McGuire said. "After we've spent considerable time and energy as a service to the state, they went ahead with that bill. They're jumping the gun by putting this forward."

Many teacher-educators believe that basic-skills tests screen out members of minority groups and don't address what they see as the real issues plaguing teaching, such as low pay, she said.

"The cheapest thing is to put it on the backs of the teachers," Ms. McGuire said of testing. "Then we can say we've taken care of teacher quality."

Ms. Wallace, the governor's education adviser, noted that it's not uncommon for colleges of education to be uncomfortable with teacher testing, particularly since they must now report students' passing scores to the federal government.

"This is an accountability mechanism for colleges of education," she said. "It makes them understandably nervous."

Vol. 19, Issue 28, Pages 24, 32

Published in Print: March 22, 2000, as Washington State To Start Testing Its Teachers
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