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POLL: Should Immersion Teachers Take the Basic Skills Test?

A new law requires all teachers to pass a basic skills test before teaching in public schools.

A group of Minnetonka parents with students in the Chinese and Spanish language immersion programs are worried about a new law that requires all teachers to pass a basic skills test before teaching in public schools.

However, some parents believe the level of English proficiency required for the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Basic Skills Test is not basic and goes beyond conversational English.

"One of the goals of our immersion program is to hire teachers with native-level fluency in the immersion language," commented one parent.

Public school teachers were already required to take the basic skills test but did not have to pass before they began teaching. Under the old law, would-be teachers who failed the test– as about 30 percent did– could get a three-year provisional license that allowed them to teach while trying to get a passing score, according a Star Tribune article.

The new law requiring all public school teachers to pass the test before they can teach took effect in late February.

The teacher licensing exams are currently only offered in English.

"We hold our immersion teachers to the same high standards for hiring that we hold for our English teachers, but we do not expect nor want them to be teaching in English," wrote a concerned Minnetonka parent. "Our model is proving very effective, and we don’t want it negatively impacted."

Anne Rogan March 21, 2012 at 01:48 PM
I didn't vote in the poll above, because the question of should or shouldn't they is not really what is being debated. Parents are asking that non-native immersion teachers be given more time to improve their English before they are required to take the test in English, not that they be exempted. As an English teacher and as one who has taken the Basic Skills tests-- these tests pose a challenge for non-native English speakers. These teachers know the content and could pass the test if it were given in their native language, but it is the grammar, syntax and high-level specialized vocabulary in English that challenges them. These teachers are hired to teach in a foreign language, and thus having native speaker proficiency in those languages is a priority when building an immersion program. It is difficult to find teachers who have both native proficiency, in say Mandarin, and a MN state teaching license ready to teach. Many teachers are hired provisionally and work hard to complete their license, tests, etc.. Often taking classes in the evening/weekends in addition to the extra hours they put in for their jobs. Additionally, their is a federal push to increase language programming in "critical" languages (eg. Mandarin) and some immersion programs receive federal funding. This basic skills law didn't take into account how this provision would impact teachers in such federally-supported programs. Basically, a state level law that contradicts a federal initiative.
Becky Glander (Editor) March 21, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Thanks, Anne. I added that option to the poll.
Gwen Voegtle February 27, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Thank you for making the challenges the non-native English speaking teachers more clear.

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