Minnesota teachers face an unfair test

  • Article by: KEVIN DAHLE
  • Updated: March 11, 2013 - 7:31 PM

The basic-skills examination, required for licensure, fails to accurately measure quality. It also discourages cultural diversity.

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Woodbury students.

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I have been an educator for 29 years. During that time, I have developed and given my fair share of tests. Sometimes I got the test right on the first try, but other times I had to develop multiple exams before finding a fair assessment for my students. As soon as I learned that a test was unfair or ineffective, I scrapped it. I did not continue to teach with a bad exam that did not accurately reflect a student’s abilities.

The state needs to take the same approach when it comes to the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations (MTLE) basic-skills test that was recently implemented. It is a bad test. Period. It needs to be eliminated.

The test doesn’t accurately measure good teachers. It measures good test-takers. Under the current test, hundreds of good teachers are at risk of losing their jobs. People’s livelihoods are at stake.

One such teacher is Dan Devine. He teaches art at Pillager High School and has been there for five years. Dan receives praise from his students and principal for being an excellent teacher. His peer evaluations are strong. But Dan has a learning disability that has prevented him from passing the writing portion of the basic-skills test. Unless we eliminate the test, Dan will lose his job, and kids at Pillager will lose an effective teacher.

Dan is just one example. There are countless others like him in Minnesota. Statistics show teachers of color and those who are nonnative English speakers are much less likely to pass the test than are those who are white and native speakers of English. Many language-immersion teachers never teach in English. They are hired for their foreign-language skills and teaching preparation and/or experience. A failing score isn’t a reflection upon their ability to teach; it shows the inadequacy of the test.

It is important that we have culturally diverse teachers. We need to be expanding opportunities for minority teachers, not putting up barriers. Studies done at Augsburg College show a significant drop in passing rates among minority teachers, including those with English as a first language.

Becoming a teacher is no easy task. In addition to the basic-skills test, teachers need to pass two MTLE tests, the content and pedagogy tests, which we are not proposing to eliminate. They need to be admitted to a degree program, complete the coursework, student-teach, interview and get hired, participate in peer reviews and take continuing education classes — all of which are more pertinent to their ability to teach than a basic-skills test.

There are many important evaluations for a teacher. The MTLE basic-skills test is not one of them. It’s OK to admit that the Legislature made a mistake. Now that we know there is a problem, we have a responsibility to our educators and to our students to fix it.

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Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. He is the chief author of SF429, which would eliminate the basic-skills portion of the MTLE.

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