Task force wants to scrap Minn. teacher tests

An education task force has recommended that state lawmakers eliminate a basic skills test that all Minnesota teachers are required to pass, though a minority of task force members disagreed.

State data from July shows about 20 percent of teaching candidates fail the test, which has math, reading and writing portion. Critics told the St. Paul Pioneer Press it's not an accurate measure of competency, is culturally biased and does not accommodate test-takers with disabilities.

John Bellingham, a Faribault middle school teacher and chairman of the state Board of Teaching, said he believes it's sufficient if candidates graduate from an accredited program, demonstrate proficiency in their subjects and pass a classroom performance exam.

"As an educator, I know a test is just a snapshot of one day. It doesn't matter if it's a sixth-grader or a teacher candidate," Bellingham said. "These people attended colleges with accredited teacher preparation programs. I believe they have basic competency. I wouldn't want a test to hold them back."

But dissenters on the task force said most states are strengthening expectations for classroom teachers and that Minnesota should do the same.

"The rest of the world is going in the opposite direction," said Jim Bartholomew, the education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership and one of four task force members to oppose its recommendation. "The goal should not be to make it easier; we need the best people we can get."

According to the National Center of Teacher Quality, 42 states require prospective teachers to pass a skills test. Of those, 29 require entrance exams to enroll in teacher preparation programs. Minnesota increased the rigor of its skills test in 2010, and in 2012 Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill that required teachers to pass the skills test before entering the classroom - ending a grace period for those who couldn't pass.

But the majority on the task force said Minnesota's test has proved to be an unnecessary hurdle for out-of-state teachers, or non-native English speakers working in language immersion programs. The task force recommended that Minnesota's teaching board put more responsibility on teacher preparation programs to guarantee candidates have the proper academic skills.

"The colleges and universities that train our future educators are the most qualified to assess their readiness to teach Minnesota students," said state Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, a task force member.

But a dissenting task force member, Republican Rep. Sondra Erickson of Princeton, said dropping the test would show a lowering of expectations for teachers. "It's a terrible message for parents to learn there may be a licensed teacher in their child's classroom that has not shown college-level reading, writing and math skills," Erickson said.

Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, has not taken a position on the task force recommendation.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press

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