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Topic: Standards For Teachers: Massachusetts Turnaround!
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Standards For Teachers: Massachusetts Turnaround!
Posted: Jul 11, 1998 3:40 PM
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From USA TODAY, Wednesday, June 24, 1998, p. 3A

In Mass., those who can't (spell or write), teach

By Fred Bayles

Sidebar: "Rather than ... giving the benefit of the doubt to the would-be
teachers, we should give the benefit of the doubt to students who have to
live with those teachers in the classrooms." -- Jim Peyser, Massachusetts
Board of Education member

Boston -- The plan seemed sound. Massachusetts would join other states
that give reading and writing tests to new teachers. The exam would weed
out the poor ones and raise the bar of excellence in public education.

Then the test scores came in. Dismayed officials found that 59% of those
who took the first test in April failed to meet the new standard.

The solution for now? Lower the bar.

The Massachusetts Board of Education voted Monday to reduce the passing
mark from what a special panel of educators had suggested: 77%. Its new
passing grade is 66%
-- a grade any school kid will tell you is a solid D.

But the new math helped. Under the new standard, only 44% failed the test;
269 of the 1,795 applicants were bumped up to a passing grade and certified
to teach. That meant 1,005 passed. If the more rigorous standards were
applied, 736 would have passed.

The machinations and results have been this week's talk here.

"Rather than going out of our way and giving the benefit of the doubt to
the would-be teachers, we should give the benefit of the doubt to students
who have to live with those teachers in the classrooms," said Jim Peyser, a
board member who opposed lowering the standard.

The test, mandatory for anyone who wants to teach in Massachusetts, gauges
basic reading and writing skills. There are separate sections for
specialties in math, science, and foreign languages.

In one section, an applicant must faithfully write down a passage that is
read out loud, slowly, three times.

The results? The word different was spelled diferant; debris was written
debri. The word surveillance proved to be a real stumbler. It was spelled
in various permutations, including surveilliance and servelance. One
applicant defined the word abolish as "a law about something." Another
said a preposition was "a description of what is taking place in a

Applicants also were asked to summarize an article about the Constitution.
One wrote: James Madison was the Father of the Constitution. But he was
no good at notes. He wrote a lot of notes on the debats. But also left
some stuff out. What we will never know. In the convention, delegats had
to debat and compermise. 42 people did not sign and thanks to James
Madison we will never know, why?

"It's pretty frightening," said John Silber, chairman of the state board.
"These were all college graduates."

Silber, a former president of Boston University and an outspoken critic of
education colleges, cast the deciding vote when the board deadlocked over
lowering the passing grade. He cited possible lawsuits by applicants who
have complained that they didn't know the exam standards would be so tough.

The board also agreed to raise the passing grade to its original mark when
the test is given again in October.

"It was the responsible thing to do," Silber said. "At least we're keeping
790 unqualified teachers out of the classroom."

Peter Finn, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School
Superintendents, said public school officials aren't worried.

"The reality is those people don't wind up getting jobs. Most schools do
their own screening, and people with minimal communications skills are
weeded out."


From the Chicago Tribune, Thursday, July 2, 1998


School Board Restores Higher Passing Standard on Teacher Test

Malden -- In a turnaround, the state Board of Education voted Wednesday not
to give a break to about 260 people who flunked Massachusetts' first
certification test for prospective teachers.

The decision mean 59 percent of nearly 2,000 teaching candidcates failed.

Last week, when test results became known, the board voted to lower the
passing grade so only 44 percent flunked. The vote came at the urging of
the Education Commissioner Frank Haydu III.

But Gov. Paul Cellucci criticized Haydu for lowering the state's standards,
and Haydu resigned.

The Board of Education voted 6 - 1 Wednesday to go back to the higher
passing grade.

"We want to deliver the unmistakable message of high standards for teachers
and students," said Abigail Thernstrom, on of the two board members who
changed their votes.

With the new standard, an estimated 260 people who benefited from the lower
benchmark flunked. They can take the test again when it is offered later
this month or in October.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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