Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new state law passed last year requires anyone who wants to be a new teacher in Minnesota to take what’s called a basic skills test. But now, some are questioning whether that test is fair.
Kayla Vandenheuvel is a junior at MSU Moorhead with a 3.9. GPA. For as long as she can remember, all she’s ever wanted to do is teach elementary school.
But a new state law requiring any new teacher in Minnesota to basic the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam basic skills test is making that dream difficult.
“I never imagined 48 multiple choice questions in one hour of time would be standing between me and the rest of my life,” Vandenheuvel said.
The test is meant to test at college level reading and writing as well as basic math. In the past, a teacher had three years to pass it, but legislation passed last year now requires all teachers pass it before they are able to teach. This test is separate from any pedagogical or subject test.
Now, critics of the test say it’s not fair and shows big disparities when it comes to race, ethnicity and English language proficiency.
At a Senate hearing about new legislation proposed to repeal the testing requirement, Vandenheuvel testified the test was flawed.
“I’m concerned that this test is not an adequate and fair measure that of all of the measurements that are required to be a teacher,” she said.
Senator Kevin Dahle (D-Northfield) proposed the repeal legislation that would give teachers a year to pass the test until 2014. After that, his legislation says the requirement no longer be used.
Here’s partly why:
According to the Minnesota Board of Teaching, 79 percent of whites passed the math test, while only 27 percent of blacks and 45 percent of Hispanics passed. In the reading portion, 79 percent of whites passed, but only 36 percent of blacks and 50 percent of Hispanics.
The fear is less diversity in front of the classroom, especially in language immersion programs.
“If the law doesn’t change, many of our member districts feels they’re going to lose teachers and consequently have to cut programs,” said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.
Augsburg College Professor Christopher Smith has crunched the numbers across the state for the basic skills test. Over and over, he sees the same racial and ethnic disparities. He doesn’t advocate getting rid of a skills test, but rather evaluating the current one for things like cultural bias.
“It’s not a step away from accountability, it’s a step away from inaccuracy,” Smith said.
The Minnesota Board of Teachers recommends three options: Give non-native speakers, like teachers in language immersion programs, three years to pass the test; Teachers currently licensed out-of-state get an extra year to pass the test; An alternative test to test basic skills that might work better for people who don’t do well on standardized tests.
But some say getting rid of a basic skills requirement goes too far.
“We’re not doing what’s best for the kids,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R–Lino Lakes). “We are looking at outcomes for teachers. We want the best for our kids and I don’t see this getting us there.”
The Senate Education Committee voted down Dahle’s proposal today 10-4. He says he’s disappointed with the vote and will continue to push for changes to the test. He’s hopeful because the legislation is still alive in the House and in an omnibus education bill.
For Vandenheuvel, the defeat means she has to make some difficult decisions ahead about teaching and test-taking.
“Just having this hurdle, it’s put me in a position where I don’t know what to do,” she said. “It’s scary not to know what to do.”