School administrators of the future would have to pass a challenging and expensive test to climb into the principal's seat.

That's the vision of a pair of national education organizations that recently unveiled an exam for prospective principals intended to improve education from the top down.The Utah Office of Education is interested in adopting the standards the test measures, but officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to the exams, which cost $500 apiece.

"I'm very interested in the test. I want to see how it proves in pilots. But I am reserving judgment at this point,," said Associate State Superintendent for Public Instruction Steve Laing. "This is arising from the professional interests of education leaders to ensure that school administrators are the best that they can be for the good of the children and the students in the schools."

Four states - Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi and North Carolina - will pilot the test next fall. Leaders of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Educational Testing Service, which developed the test, expect the exam to catch on in coming years.

"The improvement of teaching and learning requires effective leadership from a principal who knows how to support good teaching, work with the community and focus on learning," said Sharon Robinson, chief operating officer for Educational Testing Service, developer of the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college entrance.

The School Leaders Licensure Assessment poses situations a principal might face on the job, such as student safety and teaching and learning issues. The test is to measure performance on new professional standards created by education leaders nationwide and aimed at improving education.

But Laing, who took part in chief school officers discussions about the test, is concerned about its cost. Mississippi, for one, will pick up the tab in the pilot year but will pass the bill to prospective principals thereafter.

States set their own passing scores, creating inconsistencies, Laing said. There also is a question of whether a single test accurately measures performance capabilities.

"There's quite a bit of test-induced anxiety and stress that may not be the most productive with regards to determining who is or is not able to perform as an administrator or a teacher," Laing said.

While holding off on tests, Laing will propose adopting the new Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards for School Leaders at a Utah Consortium for Education Leadership meeting next month.

Utah has similar school administrative standards, embedded in a code of ethics and administrative training programs. The six new standards, however, are laid out over 21 pages and include extensive knowledge and performance indicators that administrators exemplify such values.

One standard, for instance, is that a school administrator is an education leader promoting the success of all students by sustaining a school culture conducive to student learning and professional growth.

While more than 40 states test prospective teachers before issuing licenses or allowing them to begin college training, most require no licensure test for new principals.

Utah requires for neither.

Rather, the State Board of Education has approved programs at colleges. Administrative programs are available at Utah State, University of Utah and Brigham Young University. Programs mandate eligibility for teaching certification and two years of work as a school counselor or teacher, among other entrance requirements, said Ron Stanfield, state director of certification.

Those completing Utah programs, including classes on leadership, finances, school law and curriculum, receive an administrative certificate.

"We're very concerned that principals meet the standards, certification requirements and are able to perform as an administrator," Stanfield said.