Designing a national teacher evaluation test

By , staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Last year, the 1984 Florida Teacher of the Year flunked the basic Florida teacher competency test. That's not a reflection on the teacher -- who was also a national Teacher in Space runner-up and a crack high school chemistry instructor -- but on the test itself, educators say.

The Florida embarrassment underscores the need for a better way to assess teachers -- a need that the recent Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy hopes to satisfy.

Over the next 15 months, Carnegie will give nearly $1 million to a team from Stanford University to design a national teacher evaluation test. The job won't be easy. For one thing, it's never been done before. Most states have ``simplistic paper and pencil tests -- which everybody objects to, and which don't evaluate much,'' says Gary Sykes of the Stanford team. Or, like Florida, they have objective ``checklists'' that purport to evaluate ``objectively'' by accounting for shallow techniques such as eye contact or keeping a brisk pace -- a process one educator referred to as ``behaviorism gone nuts -- there's no assessment of value.''

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To date, states have not demonstrated the resources or initiative to design a fair and accurate test. State tests vary widely. ``You could easily pass in Florida and fail in Georgia,'' says one educator.

The Carnegie effort, which will take five years and thousands of interviews with teachers to complete, will work out a variegated approach to the assessment -- one involving tests on knowledge of how pedagogy and subject matter interrelate -- and teaching ability. Greater expertise in subject matter is an important subtheme of the test.

``The test will embody what we say a good teacher should know,'' says Bill Honig, California's chief state school officer. ``Eventually, we'd like to see schools of education use the test as a model.''

Developing a serious professional examination is a key component of the teaching force restructuring called for by the Carnegie Forum. Most states, for example, require such tests before prospective architects, doctors, or lawyers can be licensed. Without such a test, says Secretary of Education William Bennett, the American public may not countenance the higher salaries called for by the Carnegie Forum.

Current teachers would be ``grandfathered'' from having to take the test, but those who did pass would qualify for higher status within the profession.

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