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OUR OPINION: Keep Basic Skills test for Minnesota teachers

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opinion Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203 http://www.grandforksherald.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/ouropinionlogo_8_11.jpg?itok=1Aw6HULR
Grand Forks Herald
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OUR OPINION: Keep Basic Skills test for Minnesota teachers
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Before attorneys can practice law in Minnesota, they have to pass the bar exam. In fact, they have to pass a two-hour, 50-question exam just to be able to sit for the bar exam.

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Likewise, nurses have to pass a nursing exam. Physical therapists must pass a national P.T. exam. Barbers have to pass a barbering exam. 

Why is it unreasonable for would-be teachers in Minnesota to pass a college-level test in reading, writing and math?

And yet, the Legislature is being asked to get rid of Minnesota’s Basic Skills test requirement for getting a K-12 teaching license.

Lawmakers should say no. It’s not wrong to expect that the people who’ll teach our children reading, writing and math should themselves be skilled at reading, writing and math, as John Alexander, head of school for Groves Academy in St. Louis Park, Minn., has written. 

Even art teachers and physical-education teachers should be proficient in those skills. Heck, even 12th graders should have mastered them to at least a high-school level. After all, pouring those foundations is a big reason why young people go to school in the first place. 

But some 21 percent of teacher candidates — all of them, presumably, with college degrees — have failed the Basic Skills test since 2010.

Now, if a law school or a physical-therapy school’s graduates were to rack up a high failure rate on a licensing exam, here’s what would happen: The schools would find the weaknesses in their programs, and fix them. 

Because when graduates can’t pass a test of their profession’s core skills, these schools recognize that it’s generally not the test’s fault.

But the Teacher Licensure Advisory Task Force appointed by the Minnesota Board of Teaching saw things differently. Confronted with the high failure rate, here’s what a majority of the task force recommended in January: Get rid of the test. 

Keep the subject-matter and classroom-instruction tests that also are requirements for licensure. But round-file the test of the 3 R’s, the age-old skill set of teachers — because as the task force’s chairman put it, “These people attended colleges with accredited teacher preparation programs. I believe they have basic competency. I wouldn’t want a test to hold them back.”

Sorry, but simply “believing” in the competency of a professional applying for the privilege of a state license isn’t enough. Consider physicians: Every U.S.-trained M.D. is a graduate of one of America’s medical schools, which collectively make up the finest medical-education network in the world.

But the competency of even those graduates isn’t assumed. Instead, the grads are tested — and if they don’t pass the national licensing exam, they don’t practice. Period.

Furthermore, “if a teacher doesn’t have to pass a basic skills test, where is the accountability?” Alexander wrote in his column.

“We ask our students to pass tests and to be accountable. Shouldn’t we hold our teachers to the same standards?”

Most states are moving toward tougher standards for teachers. Minnesota should think twice before relaxing its standards, especially when the K-12 system’s No. 1 goal is to strengthen students’ performance in the very competencies that are at issue: the modern world’s core skills of reading, writing and math.

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Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276
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