The Prince William County school system will begin administering an English competency test to all teachers and administrators applying for jobs beginning in July, a school official said last week.

The testing concept, the first of its kind in Virginia, was adopted last spring by the school board as part of a 14-point program to toughen school standards. Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland have similar testing programs. The District also administers competency tests in some subjects but not English.

Ronnie Graham, director of personnel for Prince William schools, told the school board last week the county will use a test devised by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J. He said the test is designed specifically for job candidates.

The preemployment test is not set up on a pass-fail system, Graham said. Instead, it will measure teacher performance in writing and grammar in terms of percentiles. For instance, a teacher scoring in the 75th percentile will have done better than 75 percent of those who took the test.

However, Graham said the county may eventually establish a passing grade for teachers.

"We want to start out low key because we haven't been able to talk with other systems who have done this," he said. "First, we're going to see how this test meets our needs. We're just getting our feet wet."

The county will have about 75 job openings for teachers and administrators this summer, he said.

Virginia requires candidates for teachers' certificates to take a National Teacher Exam prepared by the Educational Testing Service. The state legislature has not established a passing score for the certificate exam.

Prince William School Board Chairman Gerard Cleary said parents have been enthusiastic about the 14-point plan to strengthen the county's schools, including the plan to test teacher candidates.

But the National Education Association, which represents 1.2 million teachers, has criticized such tests, saying they do not measure intangible factors that make good teachers.

"We realize many things make a good teacher," Prince William school spokeswoman Kristy Larson said. "This test is simply to see how well a candidate knows correct grammar and English. It is there to help us find the best teachers, not tell us which are the best teachers."