State's New Testing Requirement For Teachers Seen As Just 'Another Hoop'

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State schools chief Tom Horne's announcement that all of Arizona's new teachers beginning in the 2006-2007 school year must pass a performance test has received a lukewarm reception in Payson.

"I haven't talked to a teacher that's in favor of it," Payson Education Association President and Rim Country Middle School English teacher Michelle Gibbar said. "It's another unnecessary hoop for teachers to jump through."

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Rim Country Middle School English teacher Michelle Gibbar is among the educators who say the first-ever teacher accountability test is not needed and is yet another non-teaching burden teachers will have to shoulder without compensation.

The new test, known as the Arizona Teacher Performance Assessment (ATPA), is the result of a recently signed agreement between the Arizona Department of Education, Education Testing Services and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

"For the first time ever, Arizona is going to make sure that teachers as well as administrators are held accountable to ensure that teachers are capably instructing students in accordance with the standards set by the state," Horne said.

Payson High School principal Roy Sandoval has his doubts about the suitability of ATPA.

"If it's going to be practical beyond being a political tool it must really show if a teacher is being effective in a classroom," he said.

Payson Unified School District Superintendent Sue Myers said teacher performance is a local issue best left up to individual districts.

"We are developing a mentoring program for our new teachers and we evaluate them very closely," she said.

Gibbar sees the performance tests as a slap in the face to the state's universities insinuating their colleges of education do not do an adequate job preparing teachers for the classroom.

"I think the universities do a great job," she said. " I received a phenomenal education at the University of Arizona. If they (Arizona Department of Education) don't think the universities are doing a good job (training teachers), why don't they go after them?"

Meeting the standards

In the ATPA process, new teachers will be granted provisional three-year certification with the possibility of a one-time additional three-year extension.

To obtain the provisional certificate, teachers must also continue to pass the written competency test they have been required to in the past.

After obtaining a certificate, teachers then have five chances to pass the first stage of national board certification.

Arizona will be the only state requiring its teachers to participate in national certification. Until Horne's announcement, participation in it has been by individual choice.

In the rigorous national board certification process, teachers are required to prepare portfolios by videotaping their teaching, gather teaching artifacts, provide detailed analyses of their teaching, answer questions related to their specific teaching fields, document their work outside the classroom and be evaluated by trained assessors.

If teachers fail after five attempts, they must leave the profession.

Gibbar said the time required to successfully complete the ATPA mandates would take away from the time teachers need for the multitude of duties they are already called upon to do.

She cited career ladder and the Structured English Immersion endorsements teachers must have before 2006 as requirements that already occupy much of teachers' out-of-class time.

Recruiting new teachers

Myers and Sandoval predict the ATPA requirements could be a stumbling blocking in hiring new teachers.

"With the way teachers' salaries are, it (ATPA) could make it more difficult to attract good teachers," Sandoval said. "If the requirements are to be more stringent, remuneration needs to be commensurate with that rigor."

"When we are not adding to their salaries, but asking for more from teachers, I think we are going to have a fallout on applicants," Myers said. "It's already difficult for us to find quality teachers in the rural parts of the state. I would hope this added hoop wouldn't make it even more difficult."

Horne said implementing ATPA is a "major step in fulfilling a commitment to ensure that all Arizona teachers are teaching at the level that is required to ensure student achievement."

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