Teachers May Face Testing of Skills
Ohanian Comment: We can hope that North Dakota officials don't cave in.
Local educators said Friday they were upset the federal government may make North Dakota elementary teachers take a test to prove they are qualified.
"I'm mad," said Eric Henrickson, president of the Fargo Education Association and a third-grade teacher at Bennett Elementary.
"The state has some of the top test scores in the nation and now they're saying that's not good enough. I feel like I'm jumping through hoops."
Earlier this month, officials from the U.S. Department of Education determined the state's elementary teacher requirements don't meet those of "highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"We've worked with them (the Department of Education) since day one," said Janet Welk, executive director of the state Education Standards and Practices Board. "They told us we were on the right track."
With the support of other state education groups, the board plans to challenge the government's ruling, expected to be sent in writing at a later date.
In May 2003, the state licensing board completed guidelines for teachers to become highly qualified. Under No Child Left Behind, all teachers must meet the definition by the fall of 2006.
The board determined that if teachers had a college degree in elementary education and were licensed, they met the federal definition of highly qualified. Likewise, secondary teachers who majored in the subject they teach are highly qualified.
"Nobody had any reason to believe that wasn't logical and appropriate," said Nancy Jordheim, assistant superintendent for Fargo public schools.
But during a Dec. 1 visit, federal officials told the state that elementary teachers must prove competency in math, English and science, Welk said.
Teachers can do that by passing a content test, completing a portfolio, applying for certification by a national teachers board or pursuing an advanced degree in elementary education, she said.
The state already has a test for elementary school teachers that graduating students must take beginning in 2006. Current teachers could take that test to meet federal requirements.
"But we have difficulty asking our veteran teachers to take a test developed for new teachers," Welk said. "That's a slap in the face for a teacher who has been in the classroom for many, many years."
U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called Education Secretary Rod Paige on Friday to tell him the decision was "completely devoid of common sense."
North Dakota Department of Public Instruction officials said they weren't surprised by the ruling because the government's intent was made clear when the law was introduced three years ago.
During the last legislative session, DPI officials pushed state lawmakers to require teachers to demonstrate competency.
Despite challenging the federal ruling, Welk said the state licensing board will work to put the new requirements into place so teachers can still meet the 2006 deadline.
Many educators were unaware of the federal government's conclusion, discussed Thursday at a meeting of the licensing board.
Robin Hill, human resources director for West Fargo schools, said she thought teachers would be shocked to hear the decision.
"School districts will have to rally behind their teachers if it comes to fruition," she said. "We're down to the wire, and teachers still don't know what they need to do to be qualified."
Fargo teacher representative Henrickson said the ruling would affect morale and might discourage people from going into the profession.
In a statement to members of the North Dakota Education Association, president Gloria Lokken said she was disappointed by the federal government's decision.
"In this holiday season, our teachers should be shown appreciation and respect and not given a lump of coal for Christmas," she wrote.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Erin Hemme Froslie
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