ST. PAUL, Minn. – Hatred of “high stakes testing” has reached a ridiculous new level in Minnesota.
Next month state lawmakers will consider a proposal from a legislative task force to scrap the basic skills test that all aspiring teachers must pass before being allowed into a Minnesota classroom, TwinCities.com reports. The test – which was designed by Minnesota educators and put in place just two years ago – is used to gauge a prospective teacher’s abilities in math, reading and writing.
Ensuring that teaching candidates have the academic chops to lead a classroom probably seems like a reasonable expectation to normal people. It’s such a reasonable requirement that 42 states have a similar test for aspiring educators.
Critics, however, contend that the test is – wait for it – culturally biased and, therefore, an inaccurate measure of a teaching candidate’s true classroom ability. They also worry the test is unfair to would-be-teachers who have disabilities.
State Board of Teaching Chairman and middle school teacher John Bellingham told TwinCities.com that he’s heard from enough teaching candidates who have failed the test to convince him the exam is too difficult a requirement.
Besides, Bellingham said, “a test is just a snapshot of one day.”
Bellingham – and the majority of the legislative task force that’s making the recommendation to deep-six the basic skills test – thinks there are enough safeguards already in place to ensure that only qualified people enter the profession.
Those quality control measures include state requirements that teaching candidates “graduate from an accredited program, demonstrate proficiency in the subjects they teach and pass a classroom performance exam,” TwinCities.com reports.
Jim Bartholomew, the education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, is stunned by the effort to eliminate the basic skills test.
“The rest of the world is going in the opposite direction. The goal should not be to make it easier; we need the best people we can get,” Bartholomew told the news site.
He’s right, of course.
Studies have shown time and again that many of the nation’s teacher colleges have too low of a bar for admitting wannabe educators into their training programs. And since mediocrity begets mediocrity, many of our K-12 schools have been mired in the academic doldrums for years.
This debate is even more interesting given that Minnesota is implementing Common Core’s nationalized English standards. One of the features of Common Core is that reading and writing skills will “bleed through” into virtually all subject areas, including math and science. Now more than ever, it seems appropriate to require that all Minnesota educators possess a minimal set of basic skills.
It will be interesting to see if Minnesota lawmakers repeal the basic skills test after so recently passing it into law.
If they do, it’ll only be a matter of time before state residents are inundated with news stories about how school superintendents and principals are trying to fire chronically ineffective teachers, but are being met with legal challenges from their local teacher unions.
The best course of action for everyone – especially for the low-performing teachers who simply don’t belong in the classroom – is to leave the basic skills test in place.
Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, has not taken a position on the issue, according to TwinCities.com.