Petition May Scuttle Teacher Testing in Ala.

By Linda Jacobson — November 02, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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arguing that the interests of students like themselves are not being represented because the original plaintiffs are no longer active in the case.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.


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.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
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.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

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 Is Bipartisan Education Policy Still Possible?
It's still possible to forge cross-party education policy coalitions, advocates said.
5 min read
Image of a small U.S. flag in a pencil case.
States States Direct Districts to Defy New Title IX Rule on Transgender Students
Some districts could be in a perilous legal squeeze play between their states and the feds.
4 min read
Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters presides over a special state Board of Education meeting on April 12, 2023, in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters presides over a state Board of Education meeting about Title IX regulations on April 12, 2023, in Oklahoma City. The state is among several whose leaders plan to defy new Biden administration regulations on Title IX, which covers sex discrimination.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
States Superintendent Vacancies Are High. Is Loosening Requirements a Good Idea?
Wisconsin's governor, a former educator, vetoed a bill that would have waived licensure requirements for district leaders.
3 min read
Photo of superintendent meeting with staff.
E+ / Getty
States Is Tutoring at Risk? States Stretch to Keep Funding in Place
States are using a variety of ways to ensure that tutoring programs can continue.
6 min read
Vector illustration tutoring concept of online learning with teacher and students.