Test to exempt teachers from reading instruction classes OK'd

The state school board has approved a new exam and qualifying score for elementary teachers to qualify for an exemption from Maryland's tougher reading course requirements.

But passing the test will be far from easy, even for experienced teachers. The qualifying score set by the school board last week means that only 29 percent of the first 250 teachers to take the exam earned passing marks.

The decision by the state board allows elementary school teachers who are renewing their teaching certification to take an exam developed by the Educational Testing Service, rather than enroll in additional courses in reading instruction.

"This is an opportunity for teachers to test out if they believe they have the skills," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick at Tuesday's board meeting. She said the state wants to set very high standards to ensure that teachers who pass the test truly have the skills.

For the past three years, state educators have been trying to bolster teacher preparation in their effort to improve stagnant reading achievement among Maryland pupils.

In July 1998, the board toughened reading course requirements by requiring all aspiring elementary school teachers to pass four courses in reading instruction, and all aspiring secondary school teachers two courses. The state previously required only one reading course, although many colleges required more.

The additional reading course requirements also apply to the more than 100,000 people who hold Maryland teaching certifications - including the 50,000 who teach in the state's public schools.

When the board approved the new requirements for experienced teachers seeking recertification, it promised to create an exam that would let teachers demonstrate their mastery of reading instruction. "We made this promise and we kept it," Grasmick said.

Teachers will be charged $80 to take the 60-question exam, which is called "Reading Across the Curriculum: Elementary," said Lawrence E. Leak, an assistant state superintendent. By comparison, teachers taking the required 12 additional credits in reading instruction might pay from $2,100 to $20,000.

The state also is trying to develop an exam for secondary teachers to "test out" of the Maryland reading requirements, but the test developed by Educational Testing Service is not yet suitable, Leak said.

Teachers who took a pilot version of the exams reported that "they felt some of the items on the secondary test reflected the elementary level of schooling," Leak said.