Tests for teachers on hold as funds sought
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 20, 2006
The controversial on-again, off-again performance test for teachers is off
again, for now, but when it's on again, at least teachers may not have to shell
out $400 for it.
Teachers who earned temporary teaching certificates on or after June 1 were
required to take the exam but have been given a reprieve as the state Board of
Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne ask the
Legislature to pick up the $400-per-teacher cost, which the prospective teachers
had been expected to pay. The exam is designed to create better teachers and
lead to higher student performance, experts say.
However, critics argue that it could discourage teachers from staying in the
profession because they already face lower pay in Arizona and must meet many
requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"The hope is that it will provide some assurance that our continuing teachers
are quality individuals, and ultimately the hope is to improve student
learning," said Vince Yanez, the state board's executive director.
It is impossible to know exactly how many teachers will decide to take the test
when it is eventually given, but the Arizona Department of Education estimates
there could be as many as 5,000 in the first batch.
Current certified teachers won't be affected, but anyone applying for their
temporary teaching certificate once the test goes into effect would have to pass
it after teaching for a few years if they wanted to stay in Arizona.
The test has been controversial because it will include a 15- to 20-minute
videotape of the teacher's classroom work and a written portfolio reflecting his
or her work, said Jan Amator of the Arizona Department of Education.
Two evaluators who teach in the same subject area or grade level will evaluate
the tapes and portfolios.
"It seems like for a state that is so short on finding teachers they are making
it more and more difficult every year to have school districts hire teachers to
teach the Valley students," said Michael DiGirolamo, 21, an Arizona State
University education major who plans to graduate in May. But, he added, "in
education, right now, we're in the age of accountability."
ASU education major Theresa Procaccini, 32, who also plans to graduate in May,
said she is concerned that the test is costly and will be time-consuming, but
she understands why the state is doing it.
"We just learned about this; we were all kind of shocked," Procaccini said.
"I realize because of No Child Left Behind we really have to prove we are highly
John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the
association backs the performance test and thinks having the state pay for it
would be a "demonstration of state support for teaching excellence."
How it works
Historically, Arizona teachers have earned their permanent license just by
surviving two years in a classroom.
For nearly 10 years, state officials have talked about using a performance test
to determine whether teachers should earn their permanent certification, Amator
The push took on new urgency about two years ago, when Education Week gave
Arizona a grade of "D-" on its attempts to improve teacher quality, embarrassing
state officials. That prompted Horne and a panel from the Arizona Education
Association, school administrators, universities and others to find a new test,
said Amator, a deputy associate superintendent.
In June 2005, the state board approved using the performance test.
And although some would rather there not be a test, others are tired of the fits
"It's been very frustrating to the districts that the state continues to say
that this is going to happen and then (it) does not," said Janet Seegren, an
assistant superintendent in the Tempe Union High School District.
Tying a teacher's work to his or her certification is not a bad idea, but it
comes at a bad time because the state has a teacher shortage and teachers are
already burdened with many federal and state requirements, she said.
Seegren fears it could discourage teachers in other states from moving to
Other states' success
Arizona is not the only state to consider a performance test for teachers.
Connecticut has seen teacher turnover decrease and student achievement increase
since it started a similar certification test, including videotaping and a
portfolio about 10 years ago, Connecticut education officials said.
Teachers at the end of their second year teaching there must submit a portfolio
and videos of their work that are then judged by peer teachers, said Larry
Jacobson of Connecticut's Department of Education.
"I really do hope Arizona is able to effectively implement a program,"
Jacobson said. "It's really a critical time in education."
In New Mexico, teachers put together portfolios that can include videotapes to
move up the second tier in a certification system.
If they move up, they earn at least $40,000 in their school districts, said Mary
Rose Cdebaca of that state's Public Education Department. The state is still
analyzing the evaluation, but Cdebaca said it looks like the number of teachers
applying for national board certification or earning master's degrees has risen
since the evaluation started three years ago.
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