Row over leaked test for teachers

20th June 2003 at 01:00
United States

Dispute gets to the heart of how staff should be trained in time of shortgages. Stephen Phillips reports.

A ROW over a leaked copy of a new teacher certification test has revealed a rift between America's education establishment and the White House.

David Imig, head of the body representing US teacher-training institutions, is accused of illicitly obtaining the test. He is said to have shown it to delegates at a recent education conference in a bid to derail a teacher accreditation scheme touted by the Bush administration.

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which is charged with administering the so-called Passport test, said the security breach had obliged it to scrap a $1.2 million (pound;719,000) agreement with one test contractor and hire another. So far, Pennsylvania has pledged to recognise the test as a qualification to teach with 12 more states in the pipeline.

Mr Imig, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), admitted passing on questions from a draft of the test - which is due to be introduced this August - that had already been taken by volunteer teachers, to promote "meaningful debate".

But Mr Imig denied setting out to sabotage the initiative, which will license graduates who do not have education degrees to teach.

"A public licensing test to demonstrate the skill and knowledge of a public servant should be addressed in public documents rather than hidden under security claims," he said in a statement.

But the rift runs deeper than a dispute over protocol.

Mr Imig added: "This test will be used as a substitute for prior practice in the classroom. It will stand in for preparation and for communicating with students of different ages and backgrounds. It will be used to waive requirements for preparation in teaching difficult content and challenging ideas."

Reg Weaver, president of America's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, has branded the proposal "a sham and demeaning to the profession".

But board president Kathleen Madigan argued that subject-matter training in existing courses was weak. "There is no data to suggest that going to a college of education is better than other training routes," she said.

"They have held the monopoly for the past several years. We want to be an option on the menu."

The board was given a $5m grant from the US education department in 2001 to pioneer fast-track certification and to widen recruitment options for schools short of staff.

The certificate also fits into the Bush administration's stripped-back vision for teacher training. Education secretary Rod Paige has criticised colleges for dwelling too long on instructional methodology.

Ms Madigan said that the tests would feature a beefed-up exam in subject matter, while pedagogy would be handled in another single exam, with an emphasis placed on honing skills on the job.

Carol Smith of the AACTE said that teachers' colleges "share a common worry about getting more people into teaching. But you can't teach content unless you can get seven-year-olds to understand something."

* More than three-quarters of US teachers feel they are "scapegoats for all the problems facing education", according to a new study.

Staff polled by Washington DC think-tank Public Action said they felt put upon by politicians, parents and local education chiefs. President Bush's sweeping reforms emphasise academic accountability and parents' rights to shop around for their children's schooling. Even so, 78 per cent of the 1,345 sample conceded that there were flaws in the system, saying their schools had bad teachers. Most professed openness to some aspects of the reforms, including performance-related pay.

* The US education department has withdrawn its summer reading list for students from its website after spelling mistakes and factual inaccuracies were discovered. The list had also been criticised for being outdated.

A spokesman admitted the "proofreading and clerical errors" and said that staff were now working hard to compile a new list.

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