Act 76 of 1983

aka: Teacher Testing Law

Act 76 of 1983 was a law passed by the Arkansas General Assembly mandating that practicing teachers had to take a series of tests in order to continue to hold their teaching license. Passed during a special session of the legislature, the law was part of a package of education reforms championed by Governor Bill Clinton. Some teachers’ unions and other teachers’ organizations opposed the implementation of the law, leading to a public debate about the impact of the law. The implementation of the act made Arkansas the first state in the nation to test teachers after their entrance into the education field. The complete title of the act is “An act to require teachers, counsellors, administrators, and certified personnel in the public schools to undergo testing and review with respect to functional academic skills and knowledge of subject area; to authorize in-service training and other remedial programs designed to assist personnel in overcoming professional deficiencies; and for other purposes.”

Clinton called the special session of the legislature in response to what members of the state government felt was a crisis in the public education system. Precepted by a 1978 legislative report that claimed that students in Arkansas would receive a better education in any other state, along with the 1983 Dupree v. Alma School District that ruled the school funding system unconstitutional, Clinton campaigned in 1982 on a platform that included education reform.

The session, which opened on October 4, 1983, encompassed a package of bills including raising teacher salaries, raising the standards for high school graduation, extending both the school day and the school year, and requiring that students attend kindergarten. To provide for these changes, Clinton pushed for a one-cent increase in the state sales tax. Some of the bills proposed in the session came from research gathered by an Education Standards Committee led by Hillary Clinton in the spring and summer of 1983. The origins of the teacher testing law came from this committee. The testing of new teachers in Arkansas began in 1980, leaving many teachers working in the state who had never been tested after completing their degrees.

The testing of teachers proved to be unpopular among some legislators, most notably African Americans. Meeting with the Arkansas Black Caucus in October, Clinton claimed that the establishment of testing for teachers could lead to an increase in public confidence in teachers. Members of the caucus were unconvinced and also opposed the increase in the sales tax unless it excluded food and utilities. The Arkansas Education Association opposed the bill, as did individual teachers across the state. The final bill saw all African-American members of the legislature vote against the teacher testing law, while the white members of both chambers supported the measure, leading to its passage and signing by the governor.

At least one legislator was defeated in the 1984 election in part for supporting the implementation of the tests. State Senator Vada Sheid of Baxter County lost her seat in the election following her vote to create the tests.

The law called for teachers to take a test covering basic skills during the 1984–85 school year. Additionally, teachers were required to take a test in their subject area or complete six hours of coursework in the field. Teachers who did not pass the test could retake it, but they had to pass before June 1987 or their licenses would be withdrawn. Before retaking the test, teachers were required to participate in a remedial program sponsored by their school district or enroll at an institution of higher education to complete coursework to help them pass the test.

The company IOX Associates designed the tests. The basic skills test included questions that teachers might encounter in the classroom, such as averaging test scores and interpreting passages from teaching manuals.

During the first year of testing, 28,276 teachers took the basic skills test, with 2,803 failing at least one of the three sections. Problems plagued the testing, with hundreds of scores misreported and essays graded incorrectly. A copy of the test was stolen and sold for $1,000. Language in the act prevented individual scores from being publicized, but data collected from the tests was used to identify the institutions from which failing teachers graduated. Even after retests and efforts to correct misreported scores, 1,354 teachers ultimately did not pass the test. With the expiration of their teaching licenses, these teachers were no longer eligible to teach in public schools in Arkansas.

Act 76 of 1983 was replaced by Act 350 of 1985, which expanded the testing to all certified employees working in school districts and detailed the coursework required for subject area testing. Act 512 of 1987 gave teachers until the end of the summer of 1987 to complete coursework to keep their positions.

This teacher testing program ended in the summer of 1987, with the last teachers who did not pass the tests losing their licenses. New requirements for continuing education hours and the continued use of testing standards implemented in 1980 for new teachers allowed the state to discontinue the program.

For additional information:
Anrig, Gregory. “Teacher Education and Teacher Testing: The Rush to Mandate.” The Phi Delta Kappan 67 (February 1986): 447–451.

“Arkansas Overhauling Its Education System.” New York Times, November 20, 1983, p. 62.

“Arkansas Teacher Test Sold for $1,000.” New York Times, March 26, 1985, p. A14.

Clinton, William. “Why We Test Teachers in Arkansas.” Teacher Education Quarterly 13 (Summer 1986): 28–30.

General Acts of the Seventy-Fifth General Assembly of the State of Arkansas, Vol. 1, Book 2. Kingsport, TN: Arcata Graphics, 1985.

Marzoni, Dan. “Foul-Ups Prove Teacher Test a Sham.” Northwest Arkansas Times, December 31, 1985, p. 4.

Maeroff, Gene. “Teachers Get a Dose of Their Own Medicine.” New York Times, June 2, 1985, p. E6.

Mulloy, Clement. “Vada Webb Sheid and the Transformation of North Central Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Association 73 (Summer 2014): 192–215.

Parry, Janine, and William Miller. “‘The Great Negro State of the Country?’ Black Legislators in Arkansas: 1973–2000.” Journal of Black Studies 36 (July 2006): 833–872.

Schmidt, William. “Teachers Up in Arms over Arkansas’s Skill Test.” New York Times, January 17, 1984, p. A18.

“Teacher Test Scores to Be Opened to Discover Failing Alma Maters.” Northwest Arkansas Times, October 15, 1985, p. 8.

“3.6% Flunk Teacher Test.” Blytheville Courier News, July 27, 1987, p. 10.

Watkins, Regina, and Donald Coker. “Teacher Testing in Arkansas: A Viable or Liable Alternative to Evaluation?” Education 109 (Fall 1988): 114–117.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 12/22/2020