Minnesota teachers must prove they can do the math

  • Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER and KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: February 22, 2012 - 8:41 PM

Dayton signs bill requiring instructors to pass a basic skills test to get licenses.

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Gov. Mark Dayton

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Want to teach in Minnesota? Better prove that you can read, write and do math really well first.

A law signed on Wednesday by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton requires would-be teachers to pass a college-level basic skills test before they can lead a classroom.

"We want the new teachers, that are going to work side by side with the current great teachers that we have, to be as well-qualified and well-prepared as we can," said Sen. Ted Daley, R-Eagan. "It is a tangible step in the right direction."

The new law is the least controversial of several changes the Republican-controlled Legislature has proposed for the state's schools. Unlike plans to upend current teacher tenure rules, the teacher testing bill had overwhelming support in the House and Senate, with only one member voting not to send it to Dayton.

Aspiring teachers already must take the basic skills test but do not have to pass before they start teaching. Under the old law, would-be teachers who failed the test, as about 30 percent did, could get a three-year provisional license that allowed them to teach while they worked toward a passing score.

"There isn't a limit on the number of times they can take the test" right now, said Keith Hovis, a spokesman for the Department of Education.

Under the new law, which takes effect Thursday, would-be teachers will have to pass the test before they can get their licenses to teach in public schools. Private-school teachers are not legally required to pass the test, Hovis said.

"This legislation helps ensure that we are hiring effective teachers who will provide a high-quality education for our children," said Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury.

Education Minnesota, a union that represents 70,000 teachers, did not take a stand on the legislation; the Association for Metropolitan School Districts supported it. Teachers are already gearing up for new scrutiny under the state's first formal teacher evaluation process, slated to go in effect in 2014.

News of the new requirement, however, caused some concern about how some teachers in immersion schools might fare. In 2011, there were about 60 immersion programs in Minnesota schools.

Claudia Baldwin, senior chair for Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network, said her group plans to discuss the issue with the Minnesota Department of Education.

"Many from the immersion community come from another country, and while they might be an excellent teacher, they might not speak English perfectly," she said. "One of things we'd like to discuss is whether they might be able to take the exam in their own language."

The bipartisan agreement on the test requirement did not come without a Dayton ding on Republicans at the Capitol.

"The Legislature has now been in session this year for almost a month, and still has not passed the Governor's Jobs Proposal, which will put tens of thousands of Minnesotans back to work," Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said.

Dayton has both a borrowing bill and a Minnesota Vikings stadium on his jobs agenda. Republicans have noted that his borrowing bill was not introduced at the start of session and that the stadium issue remains in limbo, but they are working on hearing several other facets of his jobs agenda.

kim.mcguire@startribune.com • 612-673-4469 Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

  • WHAT CHANGES

    New rule: Aspiring teachers must pass college-level basic skills test before they can teach in Minnesota's public schools. Private-school teachers don't face the same requirement.

    Old rule: New teacher who failed the same test could still enter the classroom with a three-year provisional license.

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