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Minn. House: Teachers need to pass test before entering classrooms

Teachers now have three years to pass a test of basic skills, but Rep. Andrea Kieffer of Woobury describes a bill Monday that would require them to pass the test before being given a license to teach in the state. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota teachers should know basic reading, writing and math skills before taking over classrooms, a bill the House unanimously passed Monday declares.

Current law gives new teachers three years to pass the basic skills test, allowing them to teach students during that time.

Before a 132-0 vote in favor of her bill, Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, said "we all agree we need to raise the bar for teacher candidates."

"This bill addresses concerns that teacher candidates should not be allowed into the classroom prior to passing the basic skills exam," Kieffer said.

Besides requiring passing the test before teaching, it requires a tougher test than currently used. Kieffer said the test is at college sophomore level.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said 67 percent pass the test on the first try.

Kieffer's bill requires teachers from other states to take the test before receiving a Minnesota license.

Representatives turned down an amendment that would have required students to pass the test before entering teacher training.

A similar bill is moving through the Senate.

A Senate committee heard testimony Monday about another education reform bill. Teachers and witnesses came down on both sides of a bill that would allow schools to lay off teachers based on performance.

A committee vote is scheduled Wednesday.

Current law bases layoffs on seniority.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said the seniority system does not make sense because "decisions to let teachers go are not based on their ability to teach a single class."

A similar House bill would make seniority only part of the criteria used in layoffs, while also including a teacher's subject matter and effectiveness.

Ten other states still limit layoff decisions to seniority.

Some teachers in the Senate meeting said it is more important to implement on-going teacher competency testing than the layoff bill.

"I believe this bill is an essential step in improving the performance of our teachers and school systems for the benefits of our students," said Rep. Branden Peterson, R-Andover, who authored the bill.

Peterson said he has talked to Gov. Mark Dayton about the bill, but House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said the Democratic governor has not been very involved.

"The governor needs to get engaged," Dean said, and send Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius to committee meetings.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.