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Monday, December 22, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

State fails in testing quality of teachers, report says

By Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff reporter

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Many states, including Washington, fall short when it comes to the teacher-quality requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act, according to a report by the Education Trust released today.

The national nonprofit organization, a strong advocate of the federal law, says few states have made a good-faith effort to honestly report and assess the quality of their public-school teachers.

The group criticized Washington state for not requiring the teacher tests mandated by the law Congress passed in 2002 to make schools more accountable.

But Mary Alice Heuschel, deputy superintendent at the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, says the criticism is frustrating. She said this state is doing a good job, with the approval of the U.S. Department of Education, of assessing whether all its teachers are highly qualified.

The Education Trust counters that the state doesn't have a test in place, as required by law, to ensure that teachers hired since September 2002, and paid with federal dollars under the Title I program (aimed at low-income students) have good knowledge of their subjects. They are the teachers that, under the law, the state must show are highly qualified.

Heuschel, however, says the law allows teachers to demonstrate subject knowledge in ways other than a paper-and-pencil test and that nearly all such teachers are now highly qualified. The only exception, she said, would be teachers in rural areas where districts can't immediately find a highly qualified teacher for a position.

Washington has content tests available now, but they won't be required until 2005.

This state does require all new teachers to pass a basic skills test, but Education Trust contends it's not rigorous enough.

In general, the federal law says all teachers must be highly qualified by 2005. A teacher is considered to be highly qualified if he or she has a college degree and a full teaching certificate and demonstrates knowledge of his or her subjects.

Teachers can demonstrate content knowledge by passing a state test; having a college major in the subject; or a combination of experience, college coursework, training and other state-determined measures.

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The report also criticized Washington for proposing teacher evaluations be used to determine whether existing teachers have sufficient knowledge of the subjects they teach.

Heuschel, however, says evaluations can be a good way to determine teaching quality, and often are better than paper-and-pencil tests.

The Education Trust report also casts doubt on many states' reports of their numbers of highly qualified teachers. The highest was Wisconsin at 98.6 percent. The lowest was Alaska at 16 percent. Washington reported 83 percent.

"It's reasonable to think that states vary in terms of teacher quality," the report said. "But not this much. Clearly, something else is going on."

The organization also said it distrusted states such as Washington, which the group said reported a higher percentage of highly qualified teachers in high-poverty schools than in its schools overall.

Washington reported that 88 percent of its teachers in high-poverty schools are highly qualified.

Heuschel, however, said that number isn't accurate, but that the state is working to collect more accurate data. The U.S. Department of Education is aware of the problem, Heuschel said.

The Education Trust also charged that the Department of Education is not aggressively enforcing the teacher-quality regulations.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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