D.C. School Supt. Vincent E. Reed has proposed that all applicants for teaching jobs be required to pass a written examination in the field they want to teach before they can be hired by the school system.
In addition, Reed proposed that job applicants be required to give a practical demonstration that they can teach well - either by teaching a class while a supervisor watches or by submitting a video-tape of themselves in a classroom.
Reed's proposals, contained in a memo to School Board committee, follow complaints by board nenbers that many teachers lack basic skills and speak and spell poorly.
The school system stopped giving a test to its new teachers in 1969, and since then has based its hiring entirely on an applicant's college record and an interview.
In Prince George's County the school system has given a test in spelling and grammar to all applicants for teaching jobs since 1975. Yesterday Carl McMillen, the system's director of personnel, said about 23 per cent of the 2,177 persons taking the test have failed it.
In Montgomery County, a test in English grammar and usage has been given to all prospective English teachers for the past four years. About half of those taking the test have failed it.
Kenneth Muir, director of public information for Montgomery County schools, said tests have not been required for teachers in other fields becuase of the difficulty in showing they are job-related.
However, in Prince George's County the school board now is considering having all its new teachers pass a test in basic arithmetic in addition to the exams in spelling and grammar.
"We have to make sure the colleges are doing well in terms of preparing teachers," McMillan said. "Naturally, we would expect someone who is teaching our children to use good grammar and to be fairly proficient at spelling."
No other school system in the area gives any kind of test to its teacher job applicants. Around the country such tests have largely been abandoned, following complaints that they have been used to discriminate against blacks and that they are not useful in predicting who will teach effectively.
"I don't think there should be any one criterion used for hiring people," D.C.Supt. Reed said in an interview. "But I think we should have some indication that a person knows his subject matter and writes well enough before we can be comfortable having him in a classroom."
Last month the D.C. school board's rules committee asked Reed to prepare a plan for requiring new teachers to pass a written test as a way to insure that lacking basic skills don't get into a classroom even if they do manage to graduate from college.
Many teachers in Washington schools are graduates of D.C. Teachers College, which allowed two students to graduate last month even though they failed required courses in mathematics.
In his proposal to the board, Reed said the school system should make sure that its new teachers can communicate "effectively and correctly," but he said this can be determined by the suject matter test and an oral interview so that a separate test in English would not be required. Reed's proposal makes no mention of testing all new teachers for minimum competence in mathematics.
For many decades until the 1960s, the Washington school system had a rigorous system of testing new teachers. It included a general exam on educational theory as well as a test in a teacher's own field, and practice teaching in the presence of a supervisor.