Some timid, other teachers not bothered by new requirements

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 16, 2004

There are mixed feelings about a recent ruling that will allow teacher testing to be required before an educator can be certified, but overall those in the profession agree the testing is not a bad thing.

The ruling came Tuesday from U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, ending a more than 20-year-old lawsuit, The lawsuit was filed in 1981 by Alabama State University and some of its students who claimed that the subject-matter testing was discriminatory.

“It’s my understanding that a lot of African-Americans were failing the test and they felt it was because the test was discriminating,” Lula Larkin, Superintendent of Sumter County Schools, said. “I was part of that initial group of students being tested back in the early ’80s. I didn’t have a problem with it.”

In 1986 the Alabama State Board of Education agreed to settle the suit by ending the testing. In 2000 state officials and the plaintiffs agreed to let Alabama test new teachers in basic skills, a practice that will continue.

However, because of the No Child Left Behind Act, state officials felt the best way to address some of the issues in that act would be to reimplement the subject matter testing of new teachers.

Larkin said the test will make it easier for teachers to become highly qualified, a label that the federal government wants all teachers to have as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, but, she said, it could decrease the number of applicants applying for a job.

“I have mixed emotions,” she said. “The University of Alabama and other universities already require a basic skills test before a student can even enter the teacher education curriculum, and then they have to pass another test before they can graduate. This is just another screener as I see it.”

She said the new testing requirement could intimidate someone who would make an excellent teacher but does not do well on standardized tests.

“One test is not going to determine how well you do in the classroom,” she said. “You can be knowledgeable and not have the skills to manage a classroom or get the material over to the students. There are people skills that go along with the knowledge skills.”

Larkin said she worries that future teachers may opt to go with another career because of the testing requirement, and said that could hurt schools’ chances of getting good teachers.

“We already have a shortage, I don’t see this increasing the pool of applicants,” she said.

Hale County Superintendent Frank Stegal said he agrees the test could intimidate some and could decrease the number of applicants, he said he did not feel the testing would impact the schools to a noticeable extent.

“Most of us over in the Black Belt have a hard enough time finding teachers, we don’t have a large pool of applicants to begin with – in elementary or secondary – but I don’t know that it will impact us.”

Stegal said the issue with the applicant pool is not actually finding teachers, it’s finding teachers in particular subjects.

“Out of two graduating classes at the University of Alabama, there was not one student preparing to teach high school math or science,” he said. “The problem is getting teachers for specific subjects, I don’t think a test like this is going to impact that.”

He also said he did not think the test would add anything to student scores or their ability to learn.

“One of the things we’re constantly dealing with doesn’t deal with subject matter, it’s more ‘do you understand what you’re required to teach; do you know how to pull together the resources and put them into a lesson plan; do you know how to deal with the different behavior issues; do you know how to deal with parents,'” he said. “Most of the problems we have in school do not go back to subject matter.”

Stegal didn’t say the test shouldn’t be given, though, as he said it meets federal requirements and provides a little more accountability.

“It’s just more of an assurance for us that the ones we get are at a high level of ability,” he said. “It provides a little more accountability.”

He agreed with Larking that passing the teaching test does not a teacher make.

“You can’t go by a college transcript and you can’t go by a test,” he said. “When the No Child Left Behind Act came out and teachers had to become highly qualified, everyone here knew who the good teachers were. Some of the ones who were the best teachers were not deemed highly qualified, and some of the ones who were deemed highly qualified were not as good.”

Teachers are increasingly facing issues seemingly irrelevant to their profession, and Stegal said the test could be one more thing to add to that list.

“We already have so many things we deal with, there are lawsuit minefields out there, discipline issues, so many things you’re being asked to do but teach, that some just decide it’s not worth it,” he said. “This may make some people think before they go into the profession.

Wanda Fisher, principal at Linden Elementary, had a different view of the testing requirement, opting to see it as something that would strengthen the teachers and the schools they go on to serve.

“I think it will make the employee pool stronger,” she said. “The (test) wouldn’t be a problem here, it would not be a problem for our teachers.

“It goes along with the No Child Left Behind Act and helps the public feel a little more confident,” she said.

However, on the other side, she said she sees it from the point of view of an educator, having been in the system herself for a long time.

“Being an educator, I know what these teachers go through,” she said.

“Having come through an accredited college, you feel the students are highly qualified already,” she said, noting that the test seemed almost redundant.

The testing will begin in early 2006 and will apply to colleges’ spring graduates.