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Test before you teach

DOES the general public have faith in the competency of our nation's teachers? Not really. Although a Gallup poll last year indicated a slight increase in the public's confidence in education, it has been slipping in recent years. The nation's press has pointed out at least one glaring inadequacy. It has reproduced notes and letters written by teachers to parents which were full of misspellings and grammatical errors. Let's be honest: Some teachers who have managed to secure a teacher's license are almost illiterate.

Part of the problem is the poor quality of education courses offered by teacher-training institutions. Once these graduates enter the teaching force, their shortcomings soon become evident. Fortunately, the situation is changing for the better.

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Many states are preparing competency examinations which prospective teachers must pass before they become certified. Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed this idea. Mary Futrell, president of the National Education Association, recently stated that she will press for endorsement of testing as part of the certification process.

The best idea yet, though, is a plan developed by the Connecticut State Board of Education. Beginning in October, all college students planning a teaching career must take the Connecticut Competency Examination for Prospective Teachers -- three one-hour subtests in reading, writing, and mathematics. I have only one objection with this plan. If a student passes two subtests but fails one, he or she must take all three subtests again.

Overall, I think this idea is a good one, because it serves as a preventive measure. Prospective teachers will not even be able to begin a teacher-training program unless they pass all three subtests. This averts the problem of prospective teachers taking a teacher-training program and then being barred from teaching because they cannot pass the competency exam.

Connecticut is setting an example for other states to follow. The outcome will be a better quality of teachers equipped to provide a higher quality of education for our children and youth.

Nicholas P. Criscuolo is supervisor of reading in the New Haven, Conn., public schools.

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