Law-abiding reform

Last week, you may have read about Rhode Island State Superintendent Deborah Gist’s move to abolish seniority bumping rights for teachers. But what you might not have seen was another move just as important: Raising cut scores for Rhode Island teacher candidates on the Praxis I exam. That state had one of the lowest cut scores in the land, clocking alongside that of Guam. So she asked her staff to figure out which state had the highest scores in the land—the answer: Virginia—and then she set Rhode Island’s score one point higher. The move is part of Gist’s larger plan to overhaul “the entire career span of a teacher,” from who is allowed to be trained as a teacher to veteran support and training—and every stage in between. This is no minor bureaucratic maneuver; raising the cut score from 170, where an estimated 30 percent of students fail the Praxis I, to 179, where 54 percent will, is sure to lead to an outcry among many a prospective teacher and their ed school profs. But what’s most impressive is Gist’s gutsiness. She didn’t seek approval from the legislature to make this momentous change; she is simply working within already established state law. Which means that in her three-month tenure at the head of Rhode Island schools, she’s accomplished a ton of things that her predecessors could have but didn’t do, all without changing or breaking the current rules. Other state supes: You can do this too.

R.I. education chief seeks higher standards for prospective teachers,” by Jennifer D. Jordan, Providence Journal, October 11, 2009

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