Assessment

Congress to Probe Teacher Ed. Group and Its President

By Julie Blair — June 18, 2003 7 min read

Members of Congress announced late last week they would investigate accusations that a prominent leader of the nation’s college-based teacher education programs stole and distributed test questions from the federally financed American Board for Certification of Teacher Education.

David G. Imig, the president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, admitted he had requested the items be forwarded to him, then allowed colleagues to review them. A single photocopy was made, he said. Mr. Imig said he was prompted to take the initial action after being asked to debate the test’s merits with ABCTE President Kathleen Madigan in March and did so believing they were no longer important in the test-making process.

“That set of questions was never going to reappear in that particular form, and in no way was [looking at them] going to sabotage [the ABCTE’S] efforts,” Mr. Imig said in an interview last week. “In hindsight, I wish I’d never asked for a copy.”

He declined to name the source who provided him with the test questions.

“I was just speechless,” Ms. Madigan said in an interview, referring to the day she learned the test items had been leaked. She noted that six months’ worth of work was lost. “We had to start all the way over.”

The ABCTE, however, apparently did not lose money, according to Ms. Madigan. ACT ended up charging for only a part of the $1.2 million test-development initiative that is still usable, she said.

The alleged theft also contributed to the dissolution of the ABCTE’S relationship with the Iowa City, Iowa-based test-maker ACT Inc. in April, Ms. Madigan said. But the ACT, best known for its college-entrance exams, cites other reasons.

The ABCTE has since hired Promissor, a Houghton Mifflin company based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., to draw up the standardized exams. The first of the series is expected to be launched Aug. 22. (“New Teacher Board Parts Ways With ACT,” April 23, 2003.)

Testing experts said Mr. Imig should have known better.

“If the test is intended to be secure, ... taking test items or doing anything else to them is inappropriate,” said Eva L. Baker, a co-director of the Center for the Study of Evaluation, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Members of the Education and the Workforce Committee of the U.S. House will investigate not only the incident, but also the federally subsidized teacher-preparation clearinghouse databank at Mr. Imig’s organization. Some committee members suspect it does not include unbiased information about the ABCTE, Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.

“It’s no secret that the education establishment wants to hang on to the monopoly it holds on teacher certification,” said Mr. Boehner, the chairman of the education committee. “But if there was a deliberate act of sabotage against a program supported by the tax dollars of American parents and workers, then a big line has been crossed.”

Established in 2001 by the Education Leaders Council and its National Council on Teacher Quality with a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the ABCTE says its goal is to raise the bar for teachers while breaking down barriers to entering the profession. The ABCTE plans to offer a national, portable credential for new and veteran teachers who pass online exams in academic content and pedagogy.

If states buy in to the idea, prospective teachers who passed the test could be hired to teach in public schools without any formal teacher training.

The initiative has drawn criticism from many educators, who contend that the predominantly multiple-choice test is a quick-and-dirty approach to certifying teachers.

Lobbying Urged

Mr. Imig, whose group, known as AACTE, represents more than 730 colleges with teacher- preparation programs, insisted that he was not plotting against the ABCTE. On the contrary, he said, his organization has in the past invited Ms. Madigan to speak at its national meeting and to display its materials there.

But internal AACTE documents obtained by Education Week reveal that the organization’s officials instructed members to lobby against the ABCTE and all similar credentialing programs, because they deemed their testing insufficient.

According to a Jan. 22 state-strategy memo, members should “meet with their state commissioner and/or chief state school officer, the chair and members of the state board of education, and members of the state legislature to convey their strong reservations about any proposal to bypass teacher education.”

The document also instructed them to “carefully monitor state legislative initiatives, proposed rule changes, and state board policies to identify efforts to incorporate changes ... and share information with AACTE and its state clearinghouse when such efforts are made.”

In a separate internal memo dated March 14 and written by Mr. Imig, he instructs members to “share their story in more compelling ways to the policymakers and the public. Until we do so, we can expect to see efforts to make education schools even more accountable to Washington.”

Education schools are doing a “commendable job,” he wrote.

Ms. Madigan points to such documents as evidence of a conspiracy to sink the ABCTE.

But Ana Maria Schuhmann, the chairwoman of AACTE’s board of directors and the dean of the college of education at Kean University in Union, N.J., perceives them as tactical moves designed to preserve schools of education—many of which she says are outstanding—as well as overall teacher quality.

Although the ABCTE was mentioned by name in the documents, she pointed out that the statements apply to many types of fast-track systems.

As for the blowup over the test items, Ms. Schuhmann said the board stands behind Mr. Imig. She noted, however, that she had not discussed the situation with that body yet.

“We are 100 percent sure of him,” she said. “You couldn’t find anybody with more integrity than David Imig.”

Other AACTE board members sounded more concerned.

“These are very, very serious charges,” said Mary M. Brabeck, the board’s chairwoman- elect and the dean of the education school at Boston College.

But she added: “I would be stunned if [Mr. Imig] did it with the intent to harm.”

The charges come as colleges of education struggle to keep—and in some cases establish—credibility with the public and members of Congress.

Over the years, critics have described them as cash cows for their universities that do little more for students than provide a place to hang their backpacks. As a result, the federal government began mandating complex new oversight rules under Title II of the Higher Education Act in 1998.

A bill proposed by House Republicans this month would set stricter requirements yet and, in addition, establish alternative routes into teaching in order to meet the growing demand for competent teachers. (“New Teacher Board Parts Ways With ACT,” April 23, 2003.)

Advocates like Ms. Madigan and Mr. Imig, meanwhile, are fighting ideological battles over how best to train and assess the country’s teaching corps. And while teacher preparation has long been a subject of debate, such arguments have taken on new urgency with the mandate, contained in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, that all public school students be assured of having “highly qualified” teachers.

Independence Questioned

At the same time, ACT Inc. is also working to clear its name. The test-maker, in a statement released June 6, admitted that the breach of confidentiality in the ABCTE field test occurred. After an investigation, ACT officials agreed to replace the test items for the ABCTE, the statement said. The breach of confidentiality was not, however, the reason the partnership between the test-maker and the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence dissolved, according to the statement.

ACT officials said the relationship fizzled after the ABCTE refused to organize as a nonprofit and put in place an independent board of directors, a critical component, in ACT’s view, if the organization wants to be perceived as credible. The ABCTE contends it declined to do so because ACT wanted to control the makeup of the board; officials of the testing organization said ACT Inc. has no such goal.

Currently, the three-member certification board is made up of leaders of the Education Leaders Council, its teacher-quality council, and Ms. Madigan. The ELC was formed in 1995 as an alternative to the Council of Chief State School Officers. The founders, mostly political conservatives, did so in large measure because they believed the chiefs’ group was too much a part of the education establishment.

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