Pa. Outlines Teacher-Test Alternatives

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Pennsylvania education officials have set the rules for an alternative route that some of the state’s veteran teachers can use to become “highly qualified” under federal law.

Under the plan, released early this month, teachers will generally have to take at least one college course in the subject they teach and up to 270 hours of professional development over the following 3½ years.

State education officials initially insisted, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, that teachers already in the classroom when the federal No Child Left Behind Act took effect in 2002 should win highly qualified status the same way that new teachers must: by passing a test of subject-matter knowledge or completing a college major in the subject they teach.

But after many middle school teachers failed tests of their subjects last year, officials moved forward on an alternative, known as the Bridge Certificate program. They say it was in the works before the test results became public. ("NCLB Presents Middle School Complications," Nov. 3, 2004.)

Pennsylvania may be unique in limiting its alternative to a few types of veteran teachers: those in the middle grades, special education, English-as-a-second-language, and alternative schools for youngsters not succeeding elsewhere. Those positions are more likely to require that a teacher cover more than one subject and thus need highly qualified standing in more than one area.

Plan Called Superior

When the alternative was unveiled this month, Secretary of Education designee Francis Barnes said it was superior to the state’s requirements for new teachers because it “takes our standards beyond what is measured by a single test.”

But the plan has been criticized as lacking the rigor of the test taken by new teachers coming into the profession through traditional routes.

Still, the finished plan “has come a long way in terms of following NCLB,” said Baruch Kintisch, a lawyer for the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and a leading critic of the alternative. He said that what started as a rush job became more thoughtful as education department officials convened interested parties, including his public-interest law firm and the state teachers’ unions.

The lawyer and former teacher said he still felt that the plan’s language requiring “assessment” of professional-development work was too vague, among other concerns.

Vol. 24, Issue 12, Page 18

Published in Print: November 17, 2004, as Pa. Outlines Teacher-Test Alternatives
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