Teacher tests

THE exam Texas has administered to its teachers this week can be seen as the expression of a desire to improve education within the state. Texas is one of many states learning to see their economic future in terms of the investment of their human capital, not just their natural resources and tax and wage structures. But this exam -- which is thought likely to identify some 5 percent of the state's teacher corps as ``incompetent'' -- raises some troubling questions. It would be different if this were an ``entry exam,'' comparable to a bar examination, for instance, at the outset of qualifying for a career. Given that it is a test of teachers already in the field, one wonders where the state and local authorities have been all this time. How did ``incompetents'' get hired in the first place, and how were they allowed to remain at their posts?

Unfortunately, it can seem easier to take a blanket approach to problems than to deal with them on an intelligent case-by-case basis. It is easier to let a numerical test score make the sort of determination that a thoughtful administrator or school board should have made.

An analogy may be drawn with the recent call for blanket drug testing for US workers. Again, a mass solution is seen as preferable to giving managers the word that they are to be alert for signs of drug abuse and to act when they see them.

Are teachers being made scapegoats at a time when problems in education go far beyond the matter of individual performance on a standardized test? Can we imagine the medical fraternity, or the bar, submitting meekly to such a test?

Improving the teaching in its schools is a laudable aim for Texas. But ``going by the numbers'' is surely not the best way to reach that goal. Careful case-by-case assessment of would-be teachers is.


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