A proposal for a rigorous national proficiency examination for licensing new teachers won support yesterday from a panel of education officials, scholars and union leaders, including the National Education Association, which traditionally has opposed such tests.
The 30-member panel included Keith Geiger, vice president of the National Education Association, the country's largest teacher union, as well as Albert Shanker, president of the rival American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.
When Shanker proposed such an examination in late January, the idea was questioned by the NEA, which has long contended that a written test cannot measure teaching ability.
Yesterday, however, Geiger said his organization would support convening a national nongovernmental board to prepare licensing exams in different subjects as a way to "upgrade the teaching profession." He said the exams would allow prospective teachers to "demonstrate the ability to do what will have to be done" in the classroom.
Geiger added that because states have the legal responsibility for certifying teachers, each state should set its own passing score on the nationwide tests. But Shanker denounced this idea as "too flexible" and predicted that public "pressure" would force states to accept national standards along with a national exam.
The panel, convened by the American Enterprise Institute and the National Center for Education Information, issued its statement after a daylong meeting on improving the quality of teaching that was attended briefly by Education Secretary William J. Bennett and Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb.
In a television interview Sunday on "John McLaughlin's One on One" (WRC), Bennett praised Shanker's proposal for a national teacher licensing exam as a "good idea." But yesterday, Shanker and Bennett had a sharp exchange after Bennett said that "deserving" teachers "should be getting a lot more money," an endorsement of merit pay, which President Reagan has strongly supported.
Shanker charged that Bennett and Reagan were sending a "very negative message" that "there are a lot of inadequate teachers out there" who do not deserve raises. Bennett said that was not his intent, but then he added that in Shanker's call for a new teacher exam, "the implication is that there are a lot of dummies out there."
Denis P. Doyle, director of education policy research for the American Enterprise Institute, cautioned that in addition to having new tests, teaching can be upgraded as a profession by giving teachers "more autonomy" in selecting textbooks and running their classrooms.
On another matter, Bennett told reporters as he left the meeting that he stands by his statement last week that an estimated 13,000 students from families with incomes over $100,000 are receiving low-interest, guaranteed loans. UCLA professor Alexander Astin, the director of the survey on which the figure was based, said Monday that his data had been misused, and he said that there probably are fewer than 7,000 such students getting aid.
Even if the smaller figure is correct, Bennett said, "The point is that wealthy students are being subsidized by taxpayers, and that should not be happening."