Court Upholds Mass. Plan To Test Mathematics Teachers

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Teachers' unions in Massachusetts will soon decide whether to appeal a judge's ruling that gives the green light to a new state program requiring math teachers in low-performing schools to take tests detailing their knowledge of the subject.

State Superior Court Judge Patrick J. King ruled last week that the state board of education acted within state law when it adopted rules requiring middle and high school math teachers to undergo testing if more than 30 percent of their schools' students failed the mathematics portion of state tests.

The regulations do not violate state collective bargaining laws, the judge wrote in a 13-page ruling, because the tests are used to diagnose teachers' weaknesses and identify their professional-development needs. Moreover, he said, the requirement is within the scope of the 1993 school reform law that granted the state board wide authority over teacher professional development.

"Although mathematics teachers in schools with low-performing mathematics programs must take the math test," Judge King wrote in his May 7 ruling, "there is no requirement that the teachers pass the test."

State officials created the testing program only for math teachers because the failure rate in the subject is the highest on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. In 2000, 45 percent of sophomores and 39 percent of 8th graders failed the test. Teachers' union officials said last week that they and their lawyers were reviewing the ruling and would decide shortly whether to appeal.

"We're disappointed because we believe the way to evaluate teacher performance is by assessing performance in the classroom, not through a single test," said Stephen E. Gorrie, the president of the 93,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. "They're going to look at this test as another hurdle in their paths."

The NEA affiliate filed the suit with the 20,000-member Massachusetts Federation of Teachers.

As of last week, lawyers hadn't had the chance to review Judge King's decision sufficiently to recommend whether an appeal was likely to succeed, said Annemarie Du Boise, the director of organizing for the MFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Full Speed Ahead

The state department of education is preparing to pilot the math test this coming fall, said Jonathan E. Palumbo, a spokesman for the department.

"It's not meant to be punitive," Mr. Palumbo said. "We want to help teachers improve their subject-matter knowledge, because that can only improve student learning."

The state school board adopted the teacher-testing rules last year after then-Gov. Paul Cellucci, a Republican, proposed them in his State of the State Address. ("Massachusetts To Put Math Teachers to the Test," May 31, 2000.)

The unions claimed in their lawsuit that the genesis of the rules implied that the state board had abdicated its power to a political official, meaning that the rules were "arbitrary and capricious."

Judge King rejected that claim as well, saying that the board had acted within the power given it by the legislature and that the board's motivation for adopting the math-testing program was "immaterial."

Vol. 20, Issue 36, Page 18

Published in Print: May 16, 2001, as Court Upholds Mass. Plan To Test Mathematics Teachers
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