Aug. 11, 2004 – Education officials say the Virgin Islands is behind in its goal to have all public-school teachers certified by a 2006 federal deadline. One of the obstacles they cite is a standardized national exam some teachers must pass in order to qualify for certification.
Officials testifying before the Senate Youth and Education Committee last week told lawmakers that since the testing was first instituted, nearly 200 teachers have become eligible for certification.
But under the territory's compliance agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to correct deficiencies in the local education system, this isn't good enough. Sen. Lorraine Berry said in her paid weekly radio broadcast this week that the V.I. Education Department committed to certifying teachers in stages and is facing a September deadline for 289, meaning it's about 89 teachers short.
"Ironically the major reason for this shortage of certified teachers is the presence of a standardized test for teachers," Berry said. "It is called the Praxis I. Teachers either do not take it, or many fail when they do so."
The Education Department is trying to help teachers prepare for the test, personnel director Alscess Lewis-Brown told the Senate committee. She said teachers preparing to take the Praxis I have had the option of taking preparatory classes at the University of the Virgin Islands. They could also take a practice test.
But, Lewis-Brown said, there have been few takers.
Jeannette Lovern, UVI associate professor of education, helps teach those preparatory courses on the St. Croix campus. A "fair number" of candidates signed up and faithfully showed up, she said, but the classes have not been filled to capacity.
"Certainly the prep course does have openings," Lovern said. She said the university tries to schedule the classes at times convenient for those who need to take the standardized teaching test.
Meanwhile, there's increased emphasis on the Praxis I for education students at UVI. As of this fall, passing it will be mandatory for those who intend to become certified teachers upon graduation.
"We've been easing it in for a couple of years," Lovern said on Wednesday, and now "we have a requirement that all students take and pass the Praxis."
According to Berry, "It would be tempting to do away with the Praxis altogether, but the No Child Left Behind Act, which applies to all states and territories, requires standardized testing for those teachers and pupils and mandates that teachers educate in their field of expertise."
Failure of the territory's public school pupils to perform adequately on standardized tests is one of the chronic problems facing the Education Department. And, Berry noted, it is one of the deficits identified in the department's bid to win re-accreditation for three of the territory's four public high schools and first-time accreditation for the fourth.
It's up to teachers to help their students measure up and also to help their fellow teachers meet the new certification requirements, Berry said. A comprehensive strategy and a joint effort by teachers, Education officials and the Board of Education are needed to reach that goal, she said.
Last Saturday, 92 candidates on both UVI campuses sat for the Praxis I. The test has reading, writing and math sections; some candidates sat for only one portion.
Officials could not say how soon the test results will become available and how soon Education authorities will find out how successful the most recent candidates have been in passing the standardized teaching test.
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