ST. PAUL, Minn. — A House education committee on Thursday weighed a task force recommendation to eliminate a basic skills test for prospective K-12 teachers, with some committee members saying they are eager to pass legislation doing away with the tests.
Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, was among those who favor spiking the test in the legislative session that starts Tuesday. Critics have said the tests don't effectively predict teacher performance, are culturally biased and don't make sense for some disciplines such as art and physical education.
"There's a preponderance of overwhelming evidence that the test is doing more harm than good," Isaacson said.
Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said the test is keeping too many teachers from becoming permanently classroom-eligible in Minnesota.
"The immediacy of the situation is that we have almost 3,000 teacher candidates who want to teach, but can't because they've failed the test," Mariani, who chairs the House Committee on K-12 Education Policy, said in an interview before the hearing.
That's a major problem in rural areas where the number of potential hires is smaller than in the Twin Cities, Mariani said.
More than 21 percent, or more than 2,700, have not passed since August 2010, according to data provided by the Minnesota Department of Education.
But Rep. Sondra Erickson, a Princeton Republican who served on the task force and is a former English teacher, said dropping the test is a bad idea. She was one of only four of the 20 task-force members who felt that way.
Erickson said eliminating the basic skills requirement would put Minnesota further behind a national trend for more teacher accountability.
Sample test questions weren't presented at Thursday's hearing.
Christopher Smith, an Augsburg College assistant professor of education who co-chaired the task force, said in an interview after the hearing that he had taken the test himself. He said he found some questions to be culturally biased. He also said he was surprised at the wordiness of the math problems.
"How much are they confounding language ability with mathematical ability?" Smith asked.
The 20-member task force recommended killing the basic skills test requirement in January. The task force and many lawmakers agreed that teachers should continue to be required to pass more targeted tests measuring their subject-area knowledge and classroom-instructional ability.
Erickson, one of the few to support the basic-skills test, said forcing teachers to think about their knowledge in core areas such as reading, writing and math is critical to maintaining professional excellence.
"This is about confidence that we have competency in those three areas," Erickson said.
She also questioned why her task-force colleagues didn't accept an offer from Pearson, the company that developed the tests, to fix any flaws for free. Rep. Barb Yarusso, DFL-Shoreview, questioned the legitimacy of Pearson's offer, saying it came too late in the review process to remedy any flaws.