Education Dept. Ignored Reviewers In Issuing Grant for Teachers’ Test

By Linda Jacobson — March 17, 2004 4 min read
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Two of the three experts who reviewed the original grant proposal from the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence—an alternative route to teacher certification—rejected the plan, according to U.S. Department of Education documents obtained by Education Week.

Yet the ABCTE, a project of the conservative-leaning Education Leaders Council, received a $5 million grant from the department in 2001, and just last fall, was approved for a five-year, $35 million grant that will be used to expand the number of academic subjects in which new teachers can be certified.

“There is no evidence that there is a demand for this credential,” one of the reviewers wrote in a summary of that evaluator’s opinion on the proposal. “There are those in the education community who are resistant to alternative teacher certification. There is no evidence that this credentialing procedure will change those who are resistant.”

A second reviewer questioned whether the ABCTE was knowledgeable enough to manage such a project, writing, “In general, expertise about the evaluation component may be insufficient. The advisory board is impressive, but their role and commitment is not clear enough.”

ABCTE by the 1-2-3’s

Two of the three experts asked to review the application for the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence urged the U.S. Department of Education not to award a grant.

Points Awarded


National Significance 40 20 32 40

Quality of project design

30 15 21 29
Quality of project personnel 30 15 23 30
Total 100 50 76 99
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

But the third reviewer, who gave the proposal 99 points out of a possible 100, praised the plan for identifying “the pressing need for high-quality teachers in the U.S.” The ABCTE’s program emphasizes knowledge of subject matter.

“A program like this one proposed here would help school leaders who are focused on achievement to navigate through a complex interview and hiring process of teachers,” the third reviewer wrote.

Kathleen Madigan, the president of the Washington- based ABCTE, said in an interview last week that she was aware of the reviewers’ comments, and that changes were made to the proposal based on their concerns.

At the time, “this was a pretty innovative idea, and the reviewers hadn’t seen anything like this before,” she said. By now, she added, she hopes more policymakers recognize that “there is enough room and enough need for teachers that there should be all sorts of pathways for people.”

Limited Interest

The ABCTE offers two types of credentials. The Passport to Teaching is for individuals with bachelor’s degrees in any subjects who want to enter teaching. The Master Teacher certification was designed for experienced teachers and is based on achievement gains made by their students— a process that the second reviewer said would be difficult to undertake.

With the first grant of $5 million, the ABCTE offered three subject-area tests: in elementary education, mathematics, and English. One test of professional teaching knowledge was also available. The additional $35 million is meant to allow the board to expand to a much wider variety of subjects, including biology, chemistry, economics, earth science, general science, government, and special education.

But as predicted by the first reviewer, the demand for the ABCTE’s certification model has not been high so far. Only two states—Idaho and Pennsylvania—have signed on, and Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has added requirements that essentially thwart the concept of obtaining a license by simply taking a test. (“Alternative Teacher-Licensing Exam Has Setback in Pa.,” Jan. 28, 2004.)

Still, that number may increase soon, according to Buffy DeBreaux-Watts, the ABCTE’s director of marketing and outreach. She said the organization is currently working with 12 more states to encourage adoption of its alternative certification.

Michael J. Petrilli, an associate deputy undersecretary in the Department of Education, said that input from peer reviewers on federal grant proposals is not binding. They are merely asked to give their advice.

He added that he considered the two who criticized the proposal to have “policy-oriented complaints.”

“They didn’t like having something that was going to compete with the national board,” he said, referring to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which, like the ABCTE, also offers a certification for experienced teachers. But unlike the ABCTE program, national-board certification has been widely supported by the states. (“First Major Study Suggests Worth of National ‘Seal,’” this issue.)

Mr. Petrilli also rejected the idea that the ABCTE’s proposal was approved only because the organization has influence within the federal Education Department. For example, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok, one of the ELC’s founders, is the department’s acting deputy secretary.

“We really believe in this idea,” Mr. Petrilli said, adding that the ABCTE’s approach is consistent with Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s positions. “This was not just giving money to our friends.”


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