Minn. lawmakers revisit teacher test requirement

Published 10:25 am Thursday, February 21, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Some Minnesota lawmakers want to repeal a year-old law that requires all Minnesota teachers to pass a reading, writing and math test in order to get a state teaching license.

The Senate Education Committee reviewed the proposal Tuesday, but didn’t vote on it. Critics said the requirement is shrinking the supply of good teachers sometimes unfairly, including teachers who have struggled with the test because of learning disabilities or language issues.

“I know great teachers out there who just can’t pass some portion of that test,” said Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, sponsor of the repeal in the Senate.

Email newsletter signup

Defenders of the requirement said it’s way too early to scrap it entirely. Gov. Mark Dayton signed it into law last Feb. 22, after it passed the state House and Senate on near-unanimous votes.

“If you want to be a plumber, you have to pass a plumbing test,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. “There’s people who want to be pilots who can’t be pilots because they can’t pass the test. Same with cops.”

Daniel Devine, an art teacher for five years in the Brainerd-area Pillager School district, said he has been unable to pass the test’s writing portion because of a learning disability that was diagnosed in high school.

“The fact I have not passed the writing test has no bearing on my ability to do my job,” Devine said. “But I can motivate students to produce excellent work or think deeper about a topic.”

Pillager High School Principal Scott Doss called Devine an excellent teacher.

“He’s here fighting for a career worth $38,000 a year,” Doss said.

Dahle cited a state Department of Education survey in which 27 percent of school districts called the test requirements a “large barrier” to hiring effective teachers, with particular difficulty in rural areas. That number climbed to more than 50 percent of districts in the state’s largely rural northwestern quadrant.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, chairwoman of the Education Committee, said her own kindergarten teacher sister has failed the math portion of the test. But she defended her sister’s abilities, saying she has unique qualifications to work with low-income, non-English speaking students.

“She’s a very effective teacher,” said Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis.

Torres Ray voted for the bill in 2012, and said she still supports its concept. She said the committee should look for ways to address concerns about the test without eliminating it entirely.

Dahle said he’d be willing to consider a one-year moratorium on the requirement while concerns are addressed. A House companion bill has not yet been heard in committee.