Teacher Testing, Funds at Risk
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A last-minute move Friday by some Alabama State University students to become litigants in the 20-year-old teacher testing dispute could threaten millions of dollars in federal funding for schools across Alabama.
The move derails a proposed settlement that Thursday was accepted 8-0 with one abstention by the ASU board of trustees. The settlement would have moved the state closer to subject-matter teacher testing, and would have brought Alabama in line with No Child Left Behind Act requirements.
One attorney for the Alabama Board of Education pointed the finger at ASU trustee Joe Reed, who was the lone abstention in the vote just one day before to accept a settlement agreement.
"Dr. Reed has a lot of experience in litigation matters and matters involving state government, and I would be surprised to learn that he's not a significant factor in this intervention effort," David R. Boyd said.
Reed did not return repeated telephone calls from the Montgomery Advertiser on Friday.
Litigants had hoped to discuss the proposed settlement in the hearing Friday, but the ASU students and their attorney asked U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson to allow them to be included in the case.
"By intervention, you could derail the settlement," Thomson told them.
No decision on the intervention has yet been made by Thomspn, and the case could go to trial Dec. 20.
"If he lets them come in as intervenors, then that would presumably mean the settlement would be scuttled," said Boyd. "If they are allowed to intervene, and they object to the settlement ... you don't have a settlement."
The ASU students declined comment after the court hearing Friday, and their attorney, Vance McCrary, also declined comment after the hearing.
McCrary would not say who hired him to represent the students. He works for the Mobile law firm of Gardner, Middlebrooks, Gibbons, Kittrell & Olsen.
Among the firm's clients is the Alabama Education Association. Reed serves as the associate executive secretary of the AEA.
Education officials confirmed Friday that the delay could severely hamper the state's attempt to meet its testing deadline.
Joe Morton, state superintendent of education, said that had the judge approved the proposed settlement agreement Friday, testing could have begun in late 2005.
"That looks like that's not going to work at this point," he said.
The tests, known as the Praxis II exams, would have been used to determine whether teachers are highly qualified, as outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act. New teachers seeking certification would be required to take the test, as well as those teachers seeking certificatioin in an area which they weren't certified.
The Praxis already is being offered on a voluntary basis as a way for teachers across the state to comply with federal regulations. Teachers who already have certification are grandfathered in.
"No existing teacher, who keeps his or her certification intact like it is today, would be affected by this -- just newly certified teachers," Morton said.
The case goes back to 1981 when ASU successfully sued the state, alleging that such exams were discriminating against black potential teachers.
Jayne Meyer, state director of teacher education certification, said Friday that the state certifies between 6,000 to 8,000 new teachers each year.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES