Concerned about the number of black teacher candidates who fail teacher-competency tests, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has launched a series of test-preparation clinics.
The 10-week series of clinics is aimed at helping candidates pass the National Teacher Exam, a rigorous standardized test used for teacher certification in Maryland and 24 other states.
The two-year pilot program has been offered in Baltimore and Hampton Roads, Va., and is to be expanded to Greensboro, N.C., funded in part by a $50,000 grant from NCNB Corp., the parent of NCNB National Bank of Maryland. Plans call for it to be offered at nine sites around the country.
If successful, the program could be expanded to other NAACP branches around the country, said Beverly P. Cole, director of education for the national NAACP.
The pilot program comes in response to a nationwide pattern of high failure rates among minority teaching candidates, said Cole.
The National Teacher Exam, a commonly used competency test, includes sections on general knowledge, professional knowledge and communications skills. Other parts deal with specialties, such as chemistry or education of the handicapped.
Cole estimated that, as of a year ago, about 40 percent of the minority candidates who took the test in the Baltimore area failed it.
A spokesman for the Baltimore school department had no performance breakdown on candidates taking the test.
But a spokesman for the state Department of Education said the failure rate among candidates from Maryland's four predominantly black colleges in 1987 ranged from 15 percent to 50 percent on different parts of the multi-faceted test.
Black candidates did somewhat better on the professional knowledge part of the test, and worse on the communications-skills section, the spokesman said.
Among all candidates in Maryland, 94 percent of those who took the test between 1987 and 1989 passed, the spokesman said.
Cole cites a number of reasons for the high failure rate of blacks taking the exam, some of which may relate to the test itself.
In some cases, for example, candidates may have weak undergraduate preparation in the humanities, an area tested in the general knowledge section.
Other candidates may be unfamiliar with the standardized test format, while still others suffer from test anxiety that hurts their performance, said Cole.
And Cole cited more subtle "cultural bias" that may be contained in the test questions themselves, which may hurt the way blacks and other minorities perform.
The preparation clinics, which cost $100, are intended to make teacher candidates familiar with the exam format and give them skills that will help them pass, said Cole.
The curriculum was developed with the help of a former employee at the Education Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., which administers the test.
Classes are small - no more than 15 students at a time - and meet twice a week for 10 weeks. Teaching candidates work with material from an actual exam which is not currently in use, said Cole.
"The more the students become familiar with the exam, the less anxious they are about it," she said.
Cole said the clinics have been well received by teacher candidates anxious to boost their chances of passing the exam.
"It's a very frightening experience to think that you've spent four years of your life studying to be a teacher, and to think that you might not make it," said Cole.
Cole questioned the wisdom of requiring such tests in the first place, saying that "the ability to teach in the classroom is something that cannot be determined in a paper and pencil test."
But she acknowledges that teachers have little choice but to be prepared.
"If it's being required, that's reality," she said.