States

Petition May Scuttle Teacher Testing in Ala.

By Linda Jacobson — November 02, 2004 3 min read

A more than 20-year legal battle over teacher testing in Alabama could stretch out even longer if a federal judge decides to add new plaintiffs to the case.

Just when the state was set to begin using the Praxis II series of exams to license teachers, three students from historically black Alabama State University asked to join the lawsuit and are arguing that the interests of students like themselves are not being represented because the original plaintiffs are no longer active in the case.

If U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson decides to add the students, a recent settlement reached between the parties in Allen v. Alabama State Board of Education could fall apart and the more than 6,000 new teachers who enter the profession every year in Alabama would still not be required to demonstrate their competence to teach.

The case began in 1981 when Alabama State, in Montgomery, and some students filed a class action against the state over a new teacher test. They contended that the test discriminated against black aspirants.

‘Behind the Times’

“Some questions had two answers, some had no answer, and some teachers who came through Alabama State University were denied certificates because of that test,” said Paul R. Hubbert, the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. “The state had jumped the gun and gotten itself into an untenable posture.”

Under a consent decree, the state stopped administering the test. In the absence of a certification test, the state has used only the completion of a teacher education program as its criterion for awarding a teaching license. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia require teacher-candidates to pass subject-matter tests in order to teach high school, and 22 states require that of their middle school teachers, according to the Education Week Research Center.

The case lingered until 2000, when the consent decree was modified in an attempt to begin subject-matter tests for certification. But testing companies “wouldn’t go near Alabama,” because the decree “was riddled with technical problems,” said Stanford vonMayrhauser, a senior vice president and general counsel for the Educational Testing Service, the Princeton, N.J., company that produces the Praxis tests.

The state conducted some interim basic-skills testing beginning in 2002, but passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act gave policymakers a new reason to push for evaluating teachers on their knowledge of subject matter. Many are meeting its “highly qualified” standard by passing a subject-matter-knowledge test.

The consent decree was modified again this year, with the Alabama state school board, the university, and the lawyers for the original students in the case agreeing to begin subject-matter testing for future teachers and for current teachers who want to be certified in a new subject.

Alabama State University’s trustees then voted a few weeks ago to back out of the agreement. But just as Judge Thompson was about to remove them, they voted again to accept the pact. It was then that the new group of students asked to intervene.

“We were hoping to begin testing in December,” said Rebecca Leigh White, a spokeswoman for the Alabama education department. The state, she added, even had a pilot plan in which the test scores of students who did not pass the exam in the first year would not have counted.

The Praxis tests are already used in the state on a voluntary basis for teachers to earn “highly qualified” status.

“The sad thing is that No Child Left Behind requires subject-matter testing,” Ms. White said. “We continue to be 23 years behind the times with this lawsuit.”

If the judge decides to add the students to the case, and they disagree with the newest consent decree, the case is expected to go to trial Dec. 20.

The timing of the students’ petition has raised questions over who is paying their legal bills. Some observers have speculated it is the Alabama Education Association. But Mr. Hubbert said that even though the union is also a client of the lawyers representing the students, it is not behind this newest challenge.

‘Testing Is Appropriate’

“I’ve always felt that testing is appropriate. I don’t have heartburn over it,” Mr. Hubbert said. “If it’s a legitimate test, I don’t have a problem with it, and I don’t think most teachers do.”

Vance McCrary, the lawyer for the petitioning students, did not return phone calls last week.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States 'A Very McCarthyism Feel': Idaho Teachers Say Indoctrination Task Force Stokes Fear
Teachers say they don't know what they are allowed to discuss, and they're scared of the repercussions — for themselves and their students.
Becca Savransky, The Idaho Statesman
15 min read
Idaho's Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin speaks during a mask burning event at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho on March 6, 2021. McGeachin's education task force continues to make claims of indoctrination in Idaho schools, which some educators in the state say is scaring them into silence.
Idaho's Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin speaks during a mask burning event at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho on March 6, 2021. McGeachin's education task force continues to make claims of indoctrination in Idaho schools, which some educators in the state say is scaring them into silence.
Nathan Howard/Getty Images via TNS
States Who's Really Driving Critical Race Theory Legislation? An Investigation
Education Week reporting documents a complex web of individuals and conservative organizations supporting this far-reaching legislation.
15 min read
Conceptual image.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: DigitalVision Vectors and iStock/Getty)
States Download Full Text of the Texas Law Restricting Classroom Talk on Racism (HB 3979)
The Texas law restricts how teachers talk about controversial issues and limits the ways slavery and racism are taught.
1 min read
States How Will Bans on 'Divisive' Classroom Topics Be Enforced? Here's What 10 States Plan to Do
States will use lawsuits, penalties against districts, and disciplinary action against teachers to enforce "critical race theory" laws.
5 min read
In this April 15, 2021, photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a bill signing in Phoenix. Ducey, on July 9, 2021, signed legislation banning government agencies from requiring training in critical race theory.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signs a law that will fine districts $5,000 each time a teacher makes a student feel uncomfortable about their race or gender.
Ross D. Franklin/AP