The D.C. Board of Education has voted to require beginning teachers to take a battery of tests to determine their strengths and weaknesses, but is undecided on what action to take against teachers failing the tests.
Under the plan, the tests would be given to teachers in their first year in the classroom beginning in 1988. The testing would not involve veteran teachers.
Officials of the Washington Teachers' Union, the bargaining unit for city teachers, said they support the testing.
The board vote mandates D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie to develop tests for entry-level teachers by February 1988. The eight board members who attended the Wednesday night meeting voted for the testing. Three board members were absent.
The new tests for teachers represent "a big step for the school system," McKenzie said. "They will help us to ensure the quality of teachers that we have. Presently, if you get a teacher that is not so good, it's hard to weed him out. The tests will allow us to set standards that will help us detect below-average teachers earlier than we can now."
The school board said it would decide at a later date what action to take against teachers who fail the test twice.
Teacher testing has become a controversial issue around the country, touching off protests in some school districts. D.C. school board members said they wanted to move slowly and carefully in designing and implementing the tests.
The board's action means the District will follow the lead of Maryland and Virginia in testing teachers. In Prince George's County, grammar, mathematics and spelling tests have been used to screen teaching applicants for about 10 years. The Montgomery County school system also tests applicants.
School systems in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County require potential teachers to pass a state-mandated teacher certification test. No jurisdiction tests veteran teachers.
Across the country, about 35 states require teaching applicants to pass tests that measure general competency and their subject area.
Currently, D.C. schools certify teaching applicants solely by confirming that they have received college degrees from accredited institutions and have passed courses in the particular subjects that they wish to teach, officials said.
The tests will be used for beginning teachers in five "priority areas" here. School officials said they expect to lose dozens of veteran teachers in the next five to 10 years. These include junior and senior high school mathematics, science, English, foreign languages and senior high school special education courses, McKenzie said.
The new tests will become part of a $1.5 million teacher-mentor program, officials said. Under that program, beginning teachers, called "interns," work under the close supervision of highly regarded veteran teachers for one year.
D.C. school board President R. David Hall said "there may be some incompetent teachers" in city classrooms, but the board did not consider testing veteran teachers, because when the board tried to institute regular recertification requirements for teachers in 1972, the teachers went on strike. "We have learned from the past," he said.
Harold Fisher, president of the union that represents about 4,500 teachers, said, "We're against testing of teachers who are in the system already because they have already been certified and they are evaluated regularly.
"New teachers haven't established a track record. Testing would be a good way to determine whether they know their material."
Fisher and school officials expressed concern that black, Hispanic and other minority teachers have not done as well as their white counterparts on teacher competency tests nationally, but said they were confident that D.C. schools could develop tests that would be "culturally unbiased" and fair.