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 sentence."
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."
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) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU