Minnesota House panel considers plan to eliminate teacher skills test

/ 20 February 2014 / eunice

Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, February 20, 2014 – Members of the Minnesota House Education Policy Committee got their first look at a task force recommendation to eliminate a college-level skills test that teachers must pass before getting a license.

Task force members Christopher Smith, an Augsburg College professor, and Rose Hermodson, of the Minnesota Department of Education, told lawmakers Thursday that the majority of the group supported eliminating what’s now known as the “basic skills test” in reading, writing and math.

To get a license, prospective teachers must take the skills test as well as prove mastery in the subjects they teach and pass a classroom performance exam.

Members of the Teacher Licensure Advisory Task Force recommend replacing the skills test with a new accountability system where the Minnesota Board of Teaching requires state colleges and universities to ensure their graduates are ready for the classroom. Teachers educated in other states or countries should have an alternative way of proving their qualifications.

“This is the repeal of a test, but not the repeal of accountability,” said Smith, who was the task force co-chair. “Accountability is not going away; it is just going to look different.”

Four committee members, two Republican lawmakers and two members of the business community disagreed with the recommendation to scrap the test. State Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, wrote their dissenting report, saying eliminating the test would be abandoning Minnesota’s history of high standards for teachers.

“We would be taking a step back,” Erickson said, noting most states were making it more difficult, not easier, to become a teacher.

After the task force heard testimony from teaching candidates who have failed the test, many were convinced it is too flawed to be fixed. Supporters of removing the requirement say there is evidence the current exam is culturally biased and is hindering efforts to bring more diversity to Minnesota’s teaching force.

They said test maker Pearson’s offer to revise it came too late and would take too long.

“If we had gotten the test right the first time, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” said state Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, who offered to sponsor legislation to modify the licensing system. “This is clearly not a step back. It’s a step forward out of a mess we have created.”

There already were several bills introduced last year that would modify or eliminate the test, or provide an alternative path to a teaching license.

State Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said he wished the task force had offered more suggestions on what those alternative pathways would look like. Lawmakers have long wrestled with what to do with the basic skills test.

“The most important thing is to be sure we are preparing, developing and placing the most effective professionals in classrooms across the state,” Mariani said.