New educators 1st in U.S. to face mandatory exam
 August 26, 2005
 By Daniel Scarpinato
Students might call it payback time. Soon, they won't be the only ones being assessed by the state - their teachers will be, too.
Beginning next year, new Arizona teachers will need to pass a performance exam assessing their effectiveness in the classroom, which will include taping them in front of students.
The move is the first of its kind of the nation and expands the state's accountability efforts, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Thursday, since schools already receive yearly labels and students are required to take the AIMS assessment test.
"The most important factor in education is the quality of teaching after the doors close," Horne said. "This will significantly increase the quality of teaching."
But Horne and other advocates of the plan say that while the assessment is "rigorous," the aim is not to be "punitive."
The assessment, which won't affect current teachers, works like this: Beginning in 2006, incoming teachers will be granted a provisional three-year certification, with the possibility of an extension to six years.
Teachers will have five chances to pass a $390 assessment, which they pay. If they fail all five, they must leave teaching.
The criteria are based on the first stage of the competitive National Board Certification, which teachers nationwide can apply for voluntarily.
Along with a video of themselves teaching, educators will submit written work. Evaluators from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and Education Testing Services will look at things such as the teacher's effectiveness with the students, ability to convey objectives and classroom management skills.
The move is being hailed by educators as a positive leap for Arizona. The idea actually was developed a decade ago but is just now being put into action.
"It will give educators a chance to reflect on how to be effective practitioners," said Rosalva Meza, president of the Tucson Education Association, the Tucson Unified School District teachers' union.
"Right now, it's sink or swim. With this model, it will force the system to be more of a support system for new teachers."
In that regard, the program actually could help retain teachers, said Meza and Arizona Education Association President John Wright, because many teachers who quit within the first few years list lack of support as the reason.
The move comes as states hurry to fall in line with mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all teachers to be "highly qualified" by next year.
They can reach that status in a number of ways, including having a degree in the subject they teach, passing a state test or teaching the subject for a number of years.
For future teachers, the bar has just been raised.
That might stress out University of Arizona junior Megan Campbell, a 20-year-old education major, when her time comes to be evaluated.
But she agreed that getting in front of students for the first time will be tough. If the assessment translates into added guidance from experienced educators, she'll be relieved.
"Having people to support you along the way would be good," she said.
For 19-year-old UA education major David Abraham, who also will be affected by the policy when he graduates and begins his teaching career, the long-term advantages for education are evident.
"It's definitely going to be a benefit," he said. "At the beginning, it may seem difficult, but hopefully it will encourage teachers to be the best and work on classroom management and perfect their skills."
Still, the price tag for the new requirements seems a bit steep for a starting teacher's salary, he said. Horne said districts may opt to pick up part of the cost using federal funds.
● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or at