3/4/2013 TruthToTell- TESTING TO THE TEACHER: Failing the Grade





Much has been made of the effectiveness of constantly testing students with standardized and  formula tests to measure teacher performance as well as student achievement. The general conclusion: testing does little to raise the quality of either teaching or learning because, inevitably, most educators observe, the testing becomes the tool and not the learning and exposure to real life experiences that many agree result in far more effective education.

Teaching to the test has become the feared mantra for most educators, whether we’re testing teachers or students.

And, yet, just last year, despite the frequent split between teacher supporters like DFL legislators, most often also endorsed by the teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, and Republican teachers union critics, both Republican-led houses mustered large bipartisan majorities to up the ante in teacher licensure requirements by enacting a law to require teachers to pass a series of basic skills tests in reading, writing and math – before receiving certification to teach in public schools. Before that change, teachers would have to take the tests, yes, but, if they failed, could be temporarily certified and allowed in the classroom while they kept trying for up to three years.

No more. Without passing the basic skills tests, certification is withheld; so…no job until they make it.

DFL Governor Mark Dayton signed the revision bill last session.

Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations –the MTLE – are all part of the overall certification process teachers must undergo, overseen by the Minnesota Board of Teaching (BOT). Teacher licensure has been the subject of much debate over the years: are current standards adequate to measure teacher preparedness or ability to stand before 30 or more students and pass on knowledge some skeptics think the teachers themselves may lack?

And yet…when does testing become punishment rather than a measurement tool or incentive?

Taking those basic skills exams is expensive – each test costing teacher candidates well over $100 including annual testing fees. And those are charges aspiring teachers who fail them must pay over and over again. And, under that law passed last year – those fees are paid every time the test is taken – an expensive proposition.

Readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. If you can’t do it all, you’re out. You can ace two of the three, but…fail one, and…it’s over. What about people who simply don’t test well. Thousands don’t. Who makes up these tests, anyway? The testing company wouldn’t cop to it. What about the test content? Is it completely nonbiased? Could it ever notbe, given the multicultural nature of the populations likely taking them, in spite of a desperate need for finding teachers who look like the students under their charge?

And the biggest question of all: are these tests sufficient measures of teacher effectiveness. Stories abound about the many teachers considered whiz-bang conveyors of learning in the classroom, but when told to take a test containing problems or stories completely out of their ken, find themselves on the outside looking in.

Now, add in the elements of race and class and ethnic origin, and the scores become abysmal, given our US penchant for second-class education among our communities of poverty and color.

Now a bill to repeal the whole basic skills burden for graduate teachers just about ready to enter the classroom and support for that proposition is under consideration in both houses.

TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI bring several stakeholders into the studio or on the phone to talk about their studies and experiences with all this testing, including the author of the Senate bill to repeal the skills tests altogether.

Playlist Tracks: 
STATE SEN. KEVIN DAHLE (DFL, Northfield [Dist. 20]) - Vice Chair, Senate Education Committee; Member, E-12 Division of Senate Finance; Author Senate File 429 (companion House File 171 [Rep. John Ward]
DR. CHRISTOPHER SMITH - Assistant Professor & Assessment Coordinator, Augsburg College; Co-author (with Audrey Lensmire) of an Augsburg study on MTLE and Basic Skills Examinations.
KAYLA VANDENHEUVEL and KRISTEN FILDES - Teaching candidates/Junior year students,Minnesota State University at Moorhead; Co-Founders, MinnesotaVOICE (Voicing Our Important Concerns in Education) - Pre-service Teacher Advocates
SCOTT CROONQUIST - Executive Director, Association of Metropolitan School Districts
Air Date: 
March 4, 2013