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July 24, 2004

State cuts teacher dictation test, prompting criticism

From: Worcester Telegram, MA - Jul 24, 2004

The Associated Press

BOSTON- The state Education Department has cut the dictation test for prospective teachers after complaints from advocates for the deaf, a move that some say is another example of the "dumbing down" of the education system.

The test was given to people who wanted to teach in the state's public schools as a way to evaluate spelling and grammar skills. In the test, applicants had to accurately transcribe an audiotape.

The state, which administered the test for the last time on Saturday, decided to drop the dictation portion after evaluating the concerns of deaf applicants and those who needed sign-language interpreters.

But while some school administrators say the dictation test is archaic and does not necessarily reflect a person's abilities in the classroom, others say it is an effective way to judge English skills that all teachers should have.

"This abandonment of the dictation section of the examination is, not surprisingly, a dumbing down of the requirements for prospective teachers," said John R. Silber, the former president of Boston University who helped install the dictation portion of the test during his time as chairman of the state Education Board.

"In the testing of our teachers, it is important to have at least one section of the test in which there are no holds barred, a section that clearly separates the competent from the incompetent," he said.

The state has replaced the dictation test with another equally valid method of testing grammar, spelling and punctuation, Education Department spokeswoman Heidi B. Perlman said.

In the new test, applicants answer multiple-choice questions that ask them to find errors in passages of text.

"This has to do with being fair to all teacher candidates," Perlman said. "We're not making the test easier or in any way testing people on less data."

The dictation portion of the test was dropped after two years of discussion and concerns brought forward by the Disability Law Center of Boston, which said the test was unnecessary and possibly discriminatory for deaf applicants.

Even though the state provides deaf applicants a sign language interpreter and extra time it often wasn't enough because American Sign Language is not a literal translation of English, which was required on the test.

The state does not track how many deaf applicants failed the test, but Michael J. Bello, director of the Learning Center for Deaf Children in Framingham said the number was "significant."

Of his 57-person teaching staff, eight had to apply for waivers because they did not pass the test.

Clarke Fowler, a professor at Salem State College who teaches prospective teachers, said the test was irrelevant to classroom teaching.

"It was testing the quality of the tape recording. It was testing the room acoustics," he said.

Teachers who have taken the test say transcribing the dictated material is not a skill they need for the classroom.

© 2004 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.