Board wants teacher tests State officials pursue methods to gauge educators' skills

'Teachers need training'

Board also discusses ways to combat teacher shortages PTC

August 26, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

In its quest to improve reading skills and instruction, the Maryland State Board of Education decided yesterday to move forward with plans to test teachers on how well they teach reading.

The testing program, still in the study stage, could complement or, in some cases, substitute for the additional reading courses the board voted last month to require of new and experienced teachers.

The decision to continue studying the performance test for teachers was one of three reading issues before the board yesterday.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick also told board members she would report to them next month on the statewide reading task force report, which outside experts have criticized for omitting guidance for teachers and for overlooking important advances in the way children learn to read. In response to those comments, Grasmick has said she would not accept the report, and has asked task force chairwoman Patricia Richardson to assess the criticism.

Grasmick assured the board, however, that the decision to demand more reading courses was the right one. "There was one area of no ambiguity [in the criticisms of the report]. All the reviewers agreed that teachers need more training," she said.

After considerable debate and a month's delay in voting, the board agreed last month to require elementary teachers to take four more reading courses, and middle and high school teachers to add two courses to their college loads. The changes take effect this fall, though many colleges will not begin offering the courses until the 1999-2000 school year.

The state's 47,000 experienced teachers would have to take the courses before they could be recertified, unless they could prove they had mastered the necessary skills and knowledge.

That would be the goal of a performance test, which representatives of the state's colleges and universities strongly support.

The board expressed interest in trying to adapt a California test, but that assessment is used to certify new early childhood and elementary teachers. Its validity could not be assured if its use was extended to secondary and experienced teachers, assistant superintendent for certification and accreditation Lawrence E. Leak told the board. Maryland is not likely to use the test to license teachers, but rather to ensure that they are competent reading teachers.

Leak also told the board he has contacted Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT and other standardized tests, about developing a test specifically for Maryland teachers. ETS has said it could do so by the fall of 2000, at a cost roughly comparable to that of administering the California test.

The state's colleges and universities are also working on their own tests, in reading as well as other subjects, but these would be specific to the institution rather than a statewide measure.

The board instructed Leak to continue investigating the test possibilities, including opening the process to other test developers, taking particular cognizance of the cost and inviting all parts of the educational community into the discussion.

In other business, Grasmick said that she would introduce financial incentives, including a tax cut or credit, for teachers to help stem a teacher shortage that is worsening every year. The incentive package is likely to include a tuition break for college students who agree to teach several years in Maryland after graduation, she said.

Grasmick said specifics of the plan have not been finalized, but that she would present it to the board by October "for your action and support," before sending it to the General Assembly.

The teacher shortage is the result of increasing enrollments, the popularity of smaller classes and the good economy, which affords young people many opportunities -- most of which pay more than teaching jobs.

"We need to begin to raise the status of teachers," Grasmick said.

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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