MALDEN, Mass. (AP) _ More than 250 prospective teachers who squeaked by with passing grades in the state's first-ever teacher tests have flunked after all.

In a turnaround, the state Board of Education voted Wednesday to adopt a grading standard that means an estimated 59 percent of about 2,000 teaching candidates failed the Massachusetts Teacher Tests administered in April.

It's a sharp increase from the 44 percent who failed under the previous standard, one that was once backed by the board and Education Commissioner Frank Haydu III.

After criticism from Gov. Paul Cellucci and others, two board members _ including chairman John Silber _ switched their votes to affirm the higher standards, matching standards originally recommended to the board by an independent panel of educators.

``We want to deliver the unmistakable message of high standards for teachers and students,'' said Abigail Thernstrom, one of two board members who changed sides in the 6-1 vote.

With the new standard, some 260 people who benefited from the lowered benchmark will have to retake the test. Candidates may take the test as often as they wish, said John Costello, a spokesman for the education department.

The poor showing of the state's prospective teachers _ particularly the fact that a third flunked the literacy portion of the test _ had became fodder for late-night talk show comedians and resulted in what many teacher advocates decried as ``teacher bashing.'' Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran denounced the prospective teachers as ``idiots.''

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Stephen Gorrie said his group, which represents more then 80,000 teachers, supports the board's decision to raise the benchmark.

Haydu, who had said he would resign in September, walked out of the board meeting, saying he would instead leave the job immediately.

Cellucci _ who is running for governor _ has filed legislation that would require current teachers to take the teaching test before qualifying for recertification.

The bill would strip teachers who fail the test of the right to teach, and those unable to pass the test on a second try would lose their certification.