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Education Reporter

Prospective School Teachers
Fail Test in Massachusetts

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BOSTON, MA - Last spring, Massachusetts joined other states in attempting to weed out unqualified teachers by requiring that candidates for public school teaching positions take a basic skills test. The test was geared to an 8th grade level of competency. When 59% of the candidates failed, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Frank W. Haydu III suggested that the passing grade be lowered from 77% to 66%, which would have raised the percentage of successful candidates to 56%. The state Board of Education agreed, and a majority voted to lower the standards despite opposition from some members, one of whom called the test results "frightening."

Predictably, a public outcry followed the announcement of the results and the decision to lower the standards, with Haydu resigning amid the flap.

The controversy centered on the reading and writing portion of the exam, since literacy is a basic requirement for teachers of all subjects. Easy words were misspelled, and grammar and syntax errors were numerous. Haydu accused Governor Paul Cellucci, who is running for re-election, of politicizing the test results. Cellucci publicly deplored the Board of Education's move to lower the passing test grade and urged it to reconsider.

Some critics blamed the test for the poor results, claiming that it had not been validated (it had), that it was racially biased (though the score variations among the races were minimal), and that no study guide was provided (though the candidates were tested on material that prospective teachers could reasonably be expected to know).

Education expert John Silber, chancellor of Boston University and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, says he fears that the focus on Massachusetts will obscure the fact that the results of similar tests in other states are comparably dismal, and that the real problem is higher education. In a July 7 editorial in the New York Times, Silber charged that: "Grade inflation has reached the point where even outstanding students accepted at the best law schools are often deficient in writing skills and need remedial courses." He stated that standards are lowest in schools of education, which discourage the more qualified students from entering, and further noted that: "We would be justified in demanding that schools of education either raise their standards or shut their doors."

On July 1, the Massachusetts Board of Education backed down from its decision to lower the passing test score, and upheld the failure to achieve certification of nearly 60% of the state's prospective teachers.

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