WASHINGTON — A group of educators and education bureaucrats Tuesday endorsed national proficiency tests for new teachers as a way to improve the quality of education and of the profession.
The written essay tests would be created by educators on a panel similar to those run by the American Bar Assn. and the American Medical Assn. for accrediting lawyers and doctors and would be administered by the states.
The proposal came out of a meeting co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the National Center for Education Information. Denis P. Doyle, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said the proposal is part of an effort to "seize the moment and bring in as bright and able a group of teachers as we can."
Doyle called the proposal a consensus, but some educators said at a news conference that it should not be used as the sole criterion for hiring teachers. Earlier, Education Secretary William J. Bennett addressed the session but did not stay for the daylong meeting. Doyle said, adding that Bennett did not take a position on the group's proposal.
However, in a local television interview Sunday, Bennett called merit testing for teachers a "good idea." He rejected federal involvement in such tests in favor of "a national exam put together by people in the private sector."
The Education Department would not be involved in administering the proposed tests.
In the past, such proposals have divided the nation's two major teachers unions, with the American Federation of Teachers favoring the examinations and the National Education Assn. opposing them.
At the news conference, Keith Geiger, vice president of the National Education Assn., said that there is "merit in taking a look" at the idea of tests as long as they are just "part of a whole process of one becoming a teacher."
Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said he agreed that tests should not be the only criterion, saying that if a teacher tested "below a certain point on this standard, there is no need to look for any other qualifications."
Idea Gaining Favor
C. Emily Feistrizer, director of the National Center for Education Information, predicted that the panel would be formed "within six months or so" because the idea is gaining favor. "I don't think we're singing 'Dixie' about setting up a national board," she said.
Some critics, citing existing tests in Southern states, have asserted that a national test for teachers would result in fewer minorities qualifying for jobs in teaching. However, Doyle said that problem "can be remedied by thoughtful and carefully crafted policies at the state level."
Francis A. Champine, a teacher in Florida, which already uses teacher examinations, said he likes them because they make him "marketable." A national test, he contended, would lead to higher salaries for teachers.