By Vernae Hasbargen, MREA Lobbyist
After years of debating the merits of statewide tests continually redesigned to measure ever changing standards, the legislature appears ready to make significant changes.
An MDE Working Group on Assessment and Accountability, co-chaired by Fred Nolan, MREA’s executive director, has recommended replacing the high states tests in reading, math, and writing with ACT exams for all students. Both the Senate and House bills include their recommendation. According to Commissioner Cassilius, the ACT will better prepare students for the workforce by exploring their career options and while initially indicating support, the business community has more recently written op-eds indicating their concern that the change will dilute the accountability both students and the education system have with tests that must be passed to earn a diploma.
Overhaul for Teachers
The teacher basic skills test is also retired in both bills and a task force is established to recommend to the Board of Teaching and legislature how to guarantee teachers have mastered reading, writing, and math.
The test has come under fire because the candidates most likely to be denied a teaching liscense are minorities. The math test is especially onorous because its cut score was set at a point where it is estimated that 70 percent of Americans could not pass.
Legislators have invested a great deal of time focusing on how to make students into a world-class workforce and now are looking closely at the evaluation law passed two years ago. An MDE task force has made recommendations on implementing the law but when Chair Paul Marquart opened the hearing on HF 1643, he urged his committee to put on their thinking caps to solve what he described as an $80 m unfunded mandate. The Governor has recommend $10 m or $22 per pupil.
Representative Brynaert – The Leader
All sides express support for the law, with Education Minnesota testifying that they are embracing it and want to make sure it works, but funding for the additional cost of training and time out of the classroom for peer review is needed. According to Assistant Commissioner Rose Hermodson, the new law goes even further than Q-Comp, which is funded at $260 per year.
Co-author of the law and co-chair of the task force, Representative Kathy Brynaert, is a former school board member in Mankato and has led her district’s teacher evaluation efforts. She called for more research on how districts are currently paying for evaluation in order to better understand what the price tag will be.
Beyond cost, Brynaert says the bigger question is whether there will be high stakes consequences attached to the evaluation. Clearly opinions in Marquart’s committeeare split but because of Brynaert’s efforts, the law is clear in calling for multiple measures in determining teacher effectiveness.
In a committee struggling to show bipartisanship, Representative Sondra Erickson, a former Princeton teacher and former Republican chair of the Education Policy Committee, complimented Brynaert for her leadership, calling her “a mainstay in getting Minnesota to where it is now” in ensuring the quality of our education workforce.
Tom Ames is now a part time administrator in both Truman and Parkers Prairie, but during his over 20 years as superintendent in St. Charles, he spent two hours a day teaching, calling it a challenging job and telling legislators they should also spend time “walking in a teacher’s shoes.”
Ames expressed reservations about the new evaluation system in small districts where teachers and administrators “wear many hats” and urged policymakers to make sure the new law was not onerous to them. Now it is up to Marquart’s committee to decide how much to pay for it.