Ten percent of Arkansas' public school teachers have failed the nation's first statewide teacher competency test.
The results were being closely analyzed across the country yesterday, with two more states -- Georgia and Texas -- preparing to test their teachers this year, and several others debating similar teacher-testing bills in their state capitals.
The test was also a key component of Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton's educational revision package aimed at erasing Arkansas' ranking as one of the country's most illiterate states.
Despite intense opposition from the powerful National Education Association (NEA) -- including a lawsuit and a boycott of the test by a handful of teachers -- almost all of the state's more than 28,000 public school teachers took the exam this spring. The test was given in three parts, testing teachers in mathematics, reading and writing.
Initial results released late Wednesday showed that 2,803 teachers -- about 10 percent -- failed at least one part of the test. About 7 percent failed the writing portion, 5 percent failed reading, and 3 percent failed math. The results showed that 905 teachers failed all three areas.
The failing teachers have until June 1, 1987, to pass all three sections, or they will lose their state certification. Clinton, saying he understands "the pain felt by those who did not pass," added yesterday that the state will implement a "skills development program" to help teachers who need it.
"The results prove what I've been saying," Clinton said when he announced the results. "The overwhelming majority of our educators do have the basic skills essential to teaching."
The testing battle in Arkansas became a test of will between the state's progressive young governor and the influential NEA and its Arkansas affiliate, the Arkansas Education Association (AEA). The teachers argued that a standardized "paper and pencil" test could not properly measure classroom competency and would most likely end up discriminating against black teachers, many of whom attended historically black teacher colleges.
The Arkansas Department of Education has not yet computed the racial breakdown of those who passed and failed the test. Initial results show that the highest scores were recorded in the predominantly white counties, while the worst scores were in the predominantly black counties of southern and eastern Arkansas.
For example, 34.5 percent of the teachers failed in predominantly black Lee County -- the worst-scoring area -- while in Carroll County, with a mostly white population, 2.6 percent of the teachers failed.
Clinton's press secretary, Joan Roberts, said the governor recognized the potential for some racial disparity in the test scores, but she said his goal was to help the failing teachers meet the standards, for the benefit of the children they serve. "We've done this for the children, not for the teachers," she said.
She added that the 36-member committee that developed the test included 12 blacks, a higher percentage than the state's population.
The test was written by the California-based firm IOX Assessment Associates. The better-known Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., refused to allow its test to be used to examine current classroom teachers.
Peggy Nabors, president of the AEA, said her group will challenge the constitutionality of the test in federal courts. She warned against drawing the "hasty conclusion" that the teachers who failed are incompetent.
"We consider the test to be an invalid implement to measure competency," Nabors said, pointing out that the state requires all new teachers to take an entrance examination. "The testing of current teachers is inherently wrong," she said.
Nabors also accused Clinton of using the exam to play on the chords of popular discontentment over the sad state of Arkansas' public education system at the expense of the state's teachers. "You don't use a political solution to an educational problem," she said. "The governor was playing to the public on a very popular issue."