Other Views: Amend by don't repeal skills test for teachersLast year, the pendulum in Minnesota swung on teacher licensure. This year, it’s swinging back.
By: Grand Forks Herald, Forum News Service
Last year, the pendulum in Minnesota swung on teacher licensure. This year, it’s swinging back.
Just once, let’s slow and stop the swing of the thing so that it rests at equilibrium, rather than correcting for overswings for many more years to come.
Last year, “the Legislature changed the laws governing teacher preparation programs, requiring teacher candidates to pass a basic test of their reading, writing and math skills before getting an initial teaching license,” Twin Cities Daily Planet reports.
This year, “House lawmakers are revisiting the new, stricter teacher licensure law that critics say is driving qualified teachers out of the classroom.”
One bill would repeal the new rule entirely. HF 171, sponsored by Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, is meant to help people such as Dan Devine, an art teacher who spoke up in support.
“Devine has repeatedly taken and failed the writing portion of the test, he said, explaining that he has a learning disability,” the Twin Cities Daily Planet story continues.
“But the writing skills measured on the exam have no bearing on his ability to teach art, he argued. ‘I can motivate my students to do excellent work.’”
Lawmakers also heard from “local education leaders who said that the basic skills test makes it particularly hard for schools to employ teachers whose first language is not English, but who are well-qualified to teach in world-language or immersion programs,” the story continued.
A second bill — HF 34, sponsored by Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton — would expand the use of the basic-skills test by making students pass it before they could even enroll in a College of Education or other teacher-preparation program.
Now, here’s the thing: These issues represent reasonable concerns, but they don’t negate the usefulness and common sense of the new law. Teachers should have to pass a basic test of their reading, writing and math skills before they get their license; that’s just good practice.
Exams are part of the process of winning any professional license, and testing for basic skills as part of that requirement is not a stretch.
Clearly, what’s needed is a policy change that brings about equilibrium, not repeal. Dan Sellers, executive director of the MinnCAN education reform network, has such a plan.
Sellers and MinnCAN suggest requiring College of Education prospects to take the basic skills test, then to use the results to identify their academic weaknesses.
That way, they could better prepare to take the exam after graduation, for passing it still would be required to get a teaching license.
And even then, the state could be flexible in special circumstances, Sellers wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
“We must exercise creativity in allowing candidates to demonstrate that they have met these requirements, such as using performance assessments or practitioner reflections,” Sellers wrote.
“By balancing accountability with flexibility, we can reach a solution that strengthens our teacher pool.”
Balancing accountability and flexibility: That’s the right approach, and if Minnesota adopts it, the state will enjoy an effective teacher-licensing program that endures.
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