In February of last year, the Minnesota Legislature nearly unanimously adopted a new skills test that aspiring educators must pass before receiving a teaching license. But the ink had barely dried on the new rule before opponents started speaking up.
They raised legitimate concerns about “unintended consequences’’ of the law, which replaced the previous teacher basic-skills test with more rigorous Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations (MTLE). Among other objections, some school administrators worried that they would lose outstanding foreign-language teachers who could not pass the test because English was not their first language. Because of the objections, the Legislature delayed the requirement for one year.
This session, there are several proposals to either revise or scrap the testing requirement. The best of those plans would modify the law to acknowledge special circumstances and provide more time to pass the test.
Under those reasonable measures, educators with teaching licenses from other states could receive a provisional license for one year in order to pass the test. Nonnative English speakers would have up to three years.
A third modification would allow alternative ways for candidates to show their classroom competency if they have trouble with the test.
If a candidate has severe test anxiety or dyslexia, for example, a principal could vouch for their ability to teach. Or the candidate could offer another way to demonstrate his or her competency.
Last year, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) reported that about 400 current teachers and about 1,100 aspiring educators with pending licenses would be at risk of losing or not getting jobs. The one-year extension kept them in place. However, that reprieve expires this year, and lawmakers should make the modifications this session.
Minnesota’s 55,000 fully licensed teachers will be subject to those performance assessments, but are grandfathered in under previous rules on testing. They do not have to take the new MTLEs when they reapply for their licenses every five years.
MDE officials say they have questions about how well the more rigorous test measures classroom competency. They want a task force to study the test and how it fits with the teacher evaluations that are being developed.
And some educators argue that the test is unfair — especially the math requirement. They contend that an elementary teacher and those who teach subjects other than math should not be tested in basic algebra. A recent commentary from Rep. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, argued that the basic-skills part of the exam should be eliminated, and he’s introduced a bill to repeal the test.
It’s worth noting that the test was not an off-the-shelf exam used by states all over the country. The assessment was developed for Minnesota by a national testing firm with this state’s higher teaching and learning standards in mind. MDE says that about 30 percent of those taking the skills test for the first time fail, while 70 percent pass. Clearly the requirement is not beyond the capabilities of a healthy majority of teacher candidates.
Critics also say test takers should receive better diagnostic follow-up about which parts of the test they failed. That could be corrected as well. Aspiring educators can retake the test, and they should know where they need to improve.
As the state and nation ramp up academic expectations for students, it’s not unreasonable to do the same for teachers. Minnesota should have high standards for those entering the profession, while recognizing that no test is perfect.
An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis.)