A full quarter of those tested cannot pass this state basic skills exam. The Legislature approved lifting the requirement that they pass it, and a task force has been set up to retool the test to ensure that it measures what it is supposed to.
Sound like Minnesota's high school graduation standards? Nope. This test is for the state's teachers.
Called the basic skills test, the test was a requirement for Minnesota teachers to obtain a teaching license. Up until last year, there was a provision that would allow teacher candidates to get a temporary license if they were unable to pass the exam. Now, at least for this year, prospective teachers won't even have to attempt to take the test to obtain a temporary license, and the legislation allows for such a waiver for up to two years.
Richard Wassen, Director of Educator Licensing with the Minnesota Department of Education, said the basic skills exam was recently updated with a more difficult, and about a quarter of teachers tested were unable to pass. "It's a complicated problem," he explained. "It's a new test; it's higher level. Everybody thinks teachers should know basic skills," but state leaders discovered the skills test was not a good way to measure that knowledge, he said. "The bottom line is [the legislation] is a change from the previous year's legislation which mandated that everyone would need to take and pass that basic skills [test] before being issued any teaching license. So this gives sort of a grace period during which time they can still get a temporary license if they meet all other licensing qualifications, but haven't attempted or passed that basic skills test."
Wassen said the legislation was not clear about whether a would-be teacher would have to at least attempt the test. However, the Board of Teaching the state board that issues temporary teaching licenses has agreed that it will not require an aspiring teacher to take the test this year. "That's the number one question I am trying to get all the adults to answer," explained Wassen. "We've pretty much agreed for this coming year, people will just get a license whether they have attempted [the test, or not]."
The failure rate of 25 percent, said Wassen, is about two or three times what it was under a previous basic skills exam. "There's a lot of very valid information that says this is not measuring the information it's supposed to measure," he said of the new test.
Winona Area Public Schools Human Resources Director Pat Blaisdell said that District 861 does not employ very many teachers with limited or temporary licenses due to having not passed the basic skills exam. She said her office attempts to find teachers who are already licensed over those who are not. Sometimes, the district will offer a candidate with a pending license due to waiting to take the test a position, with the requirement that they obtain a license before they begin working. She said she remembered one teacher working under a temporary license last year.
Blaisdell said she has heard from teachers that the new test is difficult, and that often new teachers have a hard time scheduling a time to take the exam. "I sympathize with these individuals that spend all this time getting this education so that they can become educators and they get to the end of the road and there's this final hurdle that they need to jump, and it's difficult," she said. "If they are saying 25 percent are having difficulty [passing the test], something's not right with that."
Students will not have to pass, either
Legislation this year also lifted the requirement that a student achieve a certain score or level of proficiency on school assessments in order to graduate.
Students will still take standardized tests, which are currently being rewritten, too, but will not have to pass in order to receive a high school diploma. Instead, the statutes now require districts to focus more on career and college readiness testing, requiring that districts use test data to counsel children about their options for college and careers after graduation.