Lawmaker questions test standards for new Nevada teachers

A Nevada lawmaker is asking whether testing standards for new teachers are strict enough in a state where student test scores are below the national average.

Education officials said teacher test levels have to be balanced against the need to recruit new instructors for a growing state where 2,450 new teachers were hired last year.

"If we set them too high, we might eliminate a good individual from even being eligible to teach," said Keith Rheault, deputy state school superintendent.

Rheault was responding Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, the chairman of the state Legislative Committee on Education.

Raggio asked why the passing scores on professional teacher exams in Nevada are lower than those in other states.

Meanwhile, a legislative staff analysis put reading scores for Nevada students at the equivalent of a 63 percent passing rate on a test; 57 percent on the writing; and 62 percent for math.

Raggio cited an example where one panel recommended a passing score on an exam for new elementary school teachers of 156. A second committee recommended a passing score of 140, and the Commission on Professional Standards in Education ultimately set the score at 135, he said.

"It just seems to me you're not setting the bar high enough," Raggio said.

Rheault said he was comfortable with where the scores were set.

Qualifying scores set by the Nevada commission were "basically in the middle," compared to other states, said Steve Henick, president of the Commission on Professional Standards in Education.

He told Raggio that efforts are under way to toughen the standards on the professional tests required for Nevada teachers.

Rheault said results from the basic skill testing last school year led to another concern -- the 172 passing score for math eliminated 19 of 23 black applicants to the state.

The test and passing scores were challenged in court in Nevada in 1994 based on a claim of ethnic bias, but the exam and passing scores were ruled valid, Rheault said.

Raggio said the balance between recruitment needs and the need for quality teachers should not be made at the expense of students.


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