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Are Minnesota's teacher-prep programs leaving too many graduates unprepared?

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
At 10 of Minnesota’s 33 teacher preparation programs fewer than three-fourths of graduates passed all three of the basic skills tests required to secure a license to teach.

Suppose one in four of a law school’s graduates could not pass the bar exam after multiple attempts? Applications would plummet, the school would tumble in the all-important U.S. News & World Report rankings and its American Bar Association accreditation potentially would be threatened.

In short, it would be catastrophic.

Yet at 18 of Minnesota’s 33 teacher preparation programs fewer than three-fourths of graduates passed all three of the basic skills tests required to secure a license to teach.

At eight of those programs, less than two-thirds of graduates passed during the first three years the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations (MTLEs) were administered. At one program, the online for-profit Walden University, a third of graduates passed all three tests.

Only five programs have graduate-exam passage rates above 90 percent, with small programs administered by Carleton College, St. Olaf College and Teach for America scoring the highest.

Source: Minnesota Teacher Licensure Task Force
In order to secure a license to teach, candidates must pass basic skills tests in reading, writing, and mathematics. In the chart above, each bar represents the subject area with the lowest percent passing for that school. Since candidates must pass all three tests, this is the maximum percentage of a school's graduates who qualify for teacher's licenses based on the basic skills tests. The red line is the median lowest-passing-percentage for all 33 programs, 72%.

MinnPost obtained a list of passage rates from September of 2010 to June of last year that was circulated at a meeting of the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Task Force. The data have not been reported publicly and stand in contrast to some of the concerns the panel has raised.

It’s reproduced here in an easier-to-digest form. Readers who would like the accompanying technical data — sample sizes and scale scores — can find it here. [PDF]

Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examinations (MTLE)

Percent passing each basic skills subtest (best attempt) by institution
September 23, 2010 – June 30, 2013
% passing
% passing
% passing
Augsburg College787366
Bemidji State University706570
Bethany Lutheran College758387
Bethel University898886
Capella University768271
Carleton College100100100
College of St. Benedict/St. John's University828888
College of St. Scholastica898985
Concordia College/Moorhead919190
Concordia University/St. Paul707270
Crown College697564
Gustavus Adolphus College787282
Hamline University908584
Hamline University — Teach For America989691
Martin Luther College899291
Metropolitan State University747172
Minnesota State University/Mankato707274
Minnesota State University/Moorhead666970
North Central University737466
Northwestern College899188
Southwest Minnesota State University616364
St. Catherine University737672
St. Cloud State University717175
St. Mary's University788081
St. Olaf College949694
University of St. Thomas878779
University of Minnesota/Duluth777478
University of Minnesota/Crookston505868
University of Minnesota/Twin Cities929090
University of Minnesota/Morris818089
Walden University514834
Winona State University717474
Other in-state Institution737470
Source: Minnesota Teacher Licensure Task Force
Examinees whose data are presented in the table above may not reflect the same performance as that of examinees who will take these tests in the future. Extreme caution should be used in interpreting data for small numbers of examinees. The examinees for whom results are presented in this document may not reflect the same proportion of all the types and capabilities of examinees in the population who will take the tests in the future. For information about the number of examinees per institution, please see the source document. [PDF]

More than half of students who graduated during the three-year window — or 6,909 — attended prep programs with passage rates of 75 percent or less. In total, 12,725 teacher candidates took at least one of the exams and 9,699 passed all three.

The tests are designed to reflect whether a teacher candidate has the basic academic content-area skills of a college sophomore, the point at which most students select a field of concentration.

“Why are we even letting someone consider a career as a teacher if they aren’t able to pass those tests?” asked Sandi Jacobs, vice president and managing director of state policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). “When you look at it, it’s not blowing anyone out of the water in terms of rigor.”

Report recommended eliminating the tests

In January, the task force issued a report [PDF] recommending the basic skills tests be eliminated. Instead, it suggested, the Board of Teaching should require the programs it approves to “include assurances” that their graduates are proficient.

The state Board of Teaching sets standards for teacher licensure and approves teacher preparation programs. When controversial issues have come before it in recent months its members, which include representatives from teacher colleges, have made it clear that they believe teacher preparation in Minnesota is more rigorous than in other states.

In recommending the elimination of the tests, which measure teacher candidates’ knowledge of basic math, reading and writing, the majority of task force members said that the exams are biased against minority candidates and an unfair hurdle for foreign-language-immersion teachers. Data showing lower passage rates by racial and ethnic group are posted on the task force’s web page.

The task force’s co-chairs did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

A bill currently moving through the state House of Representatives would allow the state Board of Teaching, made up of political appointees, to create alternative routes for teacher candidates to prove their skill level. Its author, Shoreview DFLer Barb Yarusso, was a task force member.

One possibility under the change would be to have graduates post a particular score on a college-admissions test such as the ACT or SAT. But because candidates could use an overall score, licenses could be issued to teachers who did poorly in one or more subject areas.

Other states' practices

The change is being considered at a time when most states are moving to increase expectations. Currently 41 states require new teachers to pass basic skills exams; 24 of them require passage before the would-be teacher is admitted to a teacher-preparation program.

A mounting body of research shows that the top-performing education systems internationally recruit future teachers from the top of their academic classes. Historically, few U.S. programs have had high admissions requirements.

In part, this was because women and minorities had very few opportunities to enter other professions. So as higher prestige occupations diversify, the candidate pool has shrunk.

At the same time, teacher-training programs are under pressure to recruit more students of color, who are more likely to leave high school with missing skills.

Background in Minnesota

Until 2010, Minnesota teacher candidates had to pass a set of tests known as the Praxis 1. From 2001 to 2009, 10 percent to 16 percent of graduates failed the high-school-level tests on their first attempt.

Recognizing this as a low bar, in 2010 the Board of Teaching contracted with Pearson to develop the MTLEs. Minnesota teachers and teacher-prep faculty were heavily involved in the effort. Among the quality checks they performed were reviews of the test questions for cultural bias.

In 2012, a bill requiring passage of the new tests sailed through the Legislature. In 2013, with passage rates low, lawmakers voted to suspend the requirement pending the work of a task force they created.  

In response to the task force’s concerns about bias, Pearson volunteered to review the tests again and to make changes free of cost. According to a report issued by the panel’s four dissenting members, the group did not discuss Pearson’s offer.

“The task force’s recommendation to eliminate the basic skills exams is an over-reaction, and is out of step with efforts by other states and organizations to raise expectations for educators,” the report noted. “Having a nationally recognized, third-party exam of new teacher competency in the basic skills is important — not just as a safeguard for students, but as part of an overall strategy to elevate the teaching profession.”

Indeed Minnesota’s teacher-prep programs are under pressure from other quarters to begin admitting students more selectively and to take steps to remediate gaps in their academic skills.

New, tighter standards for teacher preparation

In addition to a highly critical review published last year by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is phasing in new, tighter standards for teacher-prep programs. The new criteria are part of a series of changes recommended by the National Research Council in response to a request from Congress.

Starting in 2016-2017, accredited programs will need to admit cohorts of students who score in the top 50 percent on college and graduate-school admissions tests or other assessments. In 2018-2019, the window narrows to the top 40 percent and in 2020 to the top 33 percent.

Admission by cohorts is an important detail, said James Cibulka, president of NCATE. “They are standards for the cohort, not for every individual,” he said. “So there is room for candidates who do not fit the profile.”

Programs may need to provide remediation to some students, he added. And elevating teaching as a profession will help to attract minority students who would otherwise go into a high stature field.

“That’s certainly what the alternative preparation providers have found, like Teach for America,” said Cibulka. “By and large they have done very well with diversity.”

'We're not doing well with what we do now'

Plus, it’s not as if the lower-bar status quo is effecting change. “We’re not doing well with what we do now,” he said. “We’re falling behind with the diversity of the P-12 teacher corps.”

“Right now, the conversation around the country is about raising the bar for admissions,” agreed NCTQ’s Jacobs. “How do we do that and generate a more diverse candidate pool?”

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has worked intentionally to recruit and support teacher candidates of color. “This is a very important goal for us,” said Deborah Dillon, associate dean for graduate, professional and international programs. “One strategy that we are using is we are creating scholarships for our candidates of color because often it’s a money issue.”

One of the dissenting task force members, Jim Bartholomew, noted that the state’s racial and socioeconomic achievement gap fuels the problem. Sending teachers who can’t pass a beginning college test back into classrooms won’t stop that cycle.

And what of the college graduates — several hundred during the MTLE’s first three years — who never pass the test? Before last year’s vote, legislators heard emotional testimony from teacher candidates who could not pass.

Bartholomew and another of the task force’s dissenters, Princeton Repubican Rep. Sondra Erickson, say those students deserve the chance to pick another course of study early on.

Erickson is concerned about the diversity of the teacher corps, but the passage rates by institution give her concern for all teacher candidates. If a student spends four or more years and thousands of tuition dollars in pursuit of a credential, what does it say that they can’t pass?

In the past, Bartholomew favored an unsuccessful effort to make the high-school-level Praxis 1 an entrance exam.

“Teacher candidates said, ‘This would be great because I went through four years and took the test and couldn’t pass it,’” he recalled. “If nothing else, the institution and the students would know where they stand up front.”

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Comments (113)

Student Quality

Another factor could be the quality of the students pursuing education degrees. There are fewer and fewer selling points to becoming a teacher. Especially after seeing how the last vestiges that make a teaching career attractive can be swept away so quickly -- as happened in Wisconsin. My fellow teachers pointedly discourage their own children from pursuing teaching degrees. If you are a hard working, driven person just about any other line of work is way easier, far less stressful and much more financially rewarding than teaching. My advice, get a degree/decent job in another field and if you find working with children rewarding mentor/tutor in your spare time.



Not everyone is motivated by money. Some of us just like to teach... And help others to learn.

To be fair, anyone persuaded by your advice probably should not teach; but all of the teacher candidates I work with, well, they *want* to teach. It's what they feel called to do. It's a pretty big theme where I teach, that you go and do what your soul - not your wallet - moves you to do.

What level of math is required

One argument I've heard is that the test requires advanced math for elementary teachers. I don't know if strong knowledge of Calculus or Trig is required to pass the test. Could Beth or someone else please clarify this?


My wife just took the MTLE and says there is no Calculus and what little trig there is, is very basic level. It's roughly equivalent to the math on the ACT, and not nearly as hard as the GRE.

The MTLE, which does contain

The MTLE, which does contain "basic trig", is not as hard as the GRE... Which does *not* contain trigonometry? At least according to ETS, the GRE vendor, it doesn't:

That is interesting. I'm not sure how that works, but it is interesting.

Given that teachers can be moved around

It seems like teachers should be prepared to teach any grade level and in some cases (due to seniority) any class.

More teacher bashing, more silliness

The ridiculous lead in this nonsensical story asks us to imagine the catastrophic impact on law schools if -- horrors-- 25% of their grads flunked the bar. And yet, that's exactly what occurs. About 24% of law school grads nationally flunk the bar. In Mn, it's about 14%. Even so, this hasn't led to the demise of law schools that writer Hawkins suggests. And then attempts to suggest would be an appropriate response for state schools of education. The so-called 'basic skills' for prospective teachers is and always has been a punitive barrier championed by the anti-teacher crowd. Surely successfully passing enough college courses to graduate from an accredited college, completing teacher training courses, and receiving successful evaluations from many months of student teaching are more credible indicators of individual's readiness to teach than a Pearson bubble test given on one day of reading, writing, and math 'basics'. And citing the opinions of the far-right, propaganda machine known as NCTQ as though it's an objective source is shameful.

But Jo Ann, the difference is that law schools and legal

advocates aren't demanding that the standards for the bar exam be lowered or ditched because 24 percent of their graduates aren't passing the bar. They simply expect their students to keep studying until they do pass it.

Nor are law schools or legal boards arguing that legal knowledge isn't as important as interpersonal skills.

Nor do law schools call people who want high standards for the profession "anti-lawyer."

I have no idea why expecting teachers to have basic academic skills (equivalent to a high school graduation) is considered "punitive" and "anti-teacher" or "right-wing." and I say this as a life-long progressive DFLer who is married to a teacher and has two sons who are teaching.

Help me out here.

Lynnell, note that the

Lynnell, note that the current MTLE "basic skills" test is not at a level of high school graduation but rather mid-college. This is true of few, if any, of the states using the Praxis 1, which was previously used in Minnesota and about which few complaints were heard. Also, for the record, other tests still required of all teachers seeking licensure in Minnesota are much more analogous to the bar in testing skills of pedagogy and subjects to be taught. If the vast majority of teacher candidates have passed pedagogy and content tests developed by Pearson, satisfied college/university and classroom supervisors of their readiness through student teaching, and successfully completed a rigorous performance assessment developed by Stanford University but they can't pass a "basic skills" test, isn't the obvious question not what's wrong with the programs but what's wrong with the test?


Can I just pop in here and note that Cyndy Crist is the head of the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. 


Just thought you might like to know that Cyndy Crist is the legislative and policy liaison for MACTE. The President of the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is Kathleen (Kitty) Foord.


Oh Beth, if only you were as quick to "pop in" and disclose the positions of commenters supporting your positions.

For the record,

I am the co-founder of Put Kids First Minneapolis, an entirely volunteer bunch of folks interested in contract reform and making public schools work better for the kids who are actually going to them. Almot all of us are progressive Democrats.

My three kids attend Minneapolis Public Schools from grades K-12, along with the four year-long exchange students we've hosted over the years.

I comment here as an unpaid advocate and active citizen.

Beth -- FYI, among other

Beth -- FYI, among other things, I am also a former special education teacher in Illinois and Minnesota, an interested and engaged citizen who has served on Ramsey County youth and social services advisory committees and on the boards of several non-profit organizations, a former employee of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System with responsibilities that included following P-12 policy issues (including teacher preparation and licensure), and a grandparent with a child in the Saint Paul Public Schools and another who graduated from Saint Paul Central last year. As a result, my interests in this issue reflect much more than my current position with MACTE as their legislative and policy liaison.

Thanks, Cyndy!

You make good points. Here are my three questions:

1) What's wrong with a teacher test that is at the level of mid-college? Haven't the teachers taking the test completed four years of college?

2) What are the other tests still required of all teachers seeking licensure in MN?

3) Would you find the MTLE be acceptable enough if it had no time limit and if waivers were given to teachers for whom English is a second language?

Thanks for all your work in higher ed!

Tests, tests, and more tests

Thanks for the great questions, Lynnell. My responses:
1. The primary question I have heard about the level or rigor of questions contained in the MTLE test is whether all teachers need that level of knowledge in all areas. For example, what level of math do art and PE teachers need? I think the level also makes a difference in this discussion since efforts to get rid of or provide an alternative to the test in Minnesota are being criticized because 40 or 41 other states use basic skills tests, but we know the level of the test they all use is not mid-college.

2. The tests required by the state of all licensure candidates, all of which are currently Pearson tests, are pedagogy and content (for example, if I am seeking math licensure, I have to pass a math content test). Teacher candidates also have to successfully complete student teaching and the edTPA, a rigorous, performance -based assessment developed at Stanford University. Each program also has many other requirements for admission to the program (and initially, of course, individuals must meet standards for admission to the college or university, such as high school GPA, class rank, and ACT/SAT scores) designed to assess student mastery of the state's comprehensive Standards of Practice; evaluation of these is conducted by the Board of Teaching as part of their program review and approval process.

3. Many ways to improve the MTLE test have been explored and considered. One is to remove the time limits. Pearson has never been willing to do this, but over the past four years, they have been willing to increase the time allowed. I am aware of no connection between the time a candidate takes to complete a test and their abilities to teach effectively (of course, the same can be said of any score on the test and a candidate's teaching effectiveness). Other challenges for students with disabilities have also been shared with legislators, the BOT, and Pearson, with some, but very few, accommodations made. The issue of waivers for non-native English speakers has been discussed, but one challenge here has been whether they would only apply to those teaching in an immersion program or all non-native speakers. The current House Education Policy bill includes a "fix" for those teaching in their native language in an immersion program or only teaching their native language, but does not apply to non-native English speakers seeking licensure for any other teaching positions. This is only a partial fix.

I think we need to keep coming back to the question of this one MTLE test. Given the dozens and dozens of specific examples I've heard of individuals who have shown in every other way that they are ready to teach, yet can't pass all three subtests, it seems obvious that the problem is with this specific test. I have not heard anyone who opposes the MTLE "basic skills" test speak against high standards and accountability nor of lowering standards. Rather, they want to replace this one test with other means that have been shown to be fair, valid, and reliable in assessing candidates' skills and knowledge.


Well said, Cyndy.

Your final paragraph deserves particular attention: Nobody is interested in making it easier for bad teachers to get into classrooms. This is about not preventing good teachers from having access to the field based on an assessment of a narrow band of learning, especially one with has not been proven to have a direct causal link to being a good teacher.

TFA Teachers

From what I hear, TFA teachers have no problem passing the basic skills test. This includes bi-lingual teachers and teachers of color.

Say all you want about the test: teachers should be able to pass it.


There are some who want to ditch the bar exam, and even more who agree that it is completely worthless as a measure of lawyer competency. The bar exam is a joke, and I say that as someone who passed on the first try.

I know that I (and others) have explained this to you, and you won't listen and respond by name calling and using logical fallacies. Its time to stop calling yourself a progressive and to own up to the right-wing label you have been given.

Want to teach? Pass the test

Every country that is succeeding in educating children has done so by increasing teacher quality. We are like the only superpower that needs to argue about reducing expectations so "teachers" who cannot pass a basic skills test can have access to children. It's absurd that this would be called "teacher bashing" in an era when there is pressure on every American school to achieve the results you find in Findland, Korea, and Singapore. There are wildly different circumstances in all the high performing countries, but the common thread is that they draw teachers from the top of the cognitive pool instead.

...yes, but...

...they are able to attract from the "top of the cognitive pool" by making the profession respectable with a competitive salary, and maintaining reasonable class sizes...

It's a disgrace

Putting someone who has few academic skills as a college graduate (just how did they graduate from college, one wonders…) in front of a classroom full of youngsters and expecting those youngsters to develop academic skills and a knowledge base that their instructor doesn’t have strikes me as an exercise in futility.

If – like me – those who want to see teaching gain social approval and status in the community (and higher incomes as a result), and teachers to begin to be treated with at least some modicum of respect by the society at large, these results are a disaster – little more than an invitation from public school-haters on both right and left to further corrode our attempt at a democratic and egalitarian society by sending their kids to whatever private or charter school fits their political biases the best, and in the meantime to continue the teacher-bashing that’s become commonplace in the past decade and more.

Abandoning the tests – and standardized tests are no more accurate a reflection of adult intellect than they are of high school junior intellect – does not seem to me a viable solution. The primary message that course of action sends, as Beth’s article implies, is that, when confronted with a question of competence, the best response is to avoid the confrontation. How sad.

Teaching was the best job I ever had. I was good at it, and I liked both the opportunity to explore ideas myself, as well as the opportunity to work with teenagers, an age group I discovered I really enjoyed. It was also a job that paid less than a city garbage collector throughout my career, and except for a few parents with whom I had something more than minimal interaction because they were actually paying attention to their childrens’ school and its environment, it was a job with almost no social status at all – something reflected in the pay scales. We live in a society where one’s value as a human being is often – too often – judged based on income, and a host of assumptions about someone’s “quality” as a member of society are based on those same income numbers.

Meanwhile, as expectations and standards continue to increase, the negatives for becoming a teacher continue to pile up, and to do so in a an occupation that, I’d argue, the society at large has never treated as a profession. Those who practice that occupation, at least those working in P-12, are generally not treated by the media, the public, or their college-level colleagues as professionals, and it doesn’t take a lot of research to find that critical viewpoint being expressed. Businesses that hope to be successful make a point of hiring the best and brightest that they can find, paying them well, and – along with responsibility and accountability – making sure they are tangibly rewarded for their own performance. None of that applies to public school P-12 teaching to the degree that it should, and in some instances, it doesn’t apply at all.

One need only look across either pond – to Europe or Asia – to see the vast difference in how teaching is regarded and rewarded by the public in other industrial societies. It should not surprise anyone that many teaching candidates in Minnesota and throughout the country are themselves academically mediocre – at best – and that most of a college or university’s graduating class are choosing careers outside the classroom. In a society focused on the material, not many graduates will volunteer to live in relative poverty, while simultaneously enduring public ridicule from people who usually have no idea what they’re talking about, and in an occupation where rules, standards and success are not determined by practitioners, but by politicians.

The disgrace goes far beyond test scores in teacher-prep programs.

UofM Twin Cities

The first chart shown has the numbers but not the name for the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Although it is one of the top five, it is never mentioned in the article. This oversight should be corrected.

Hi Nancy--no oversight

The story actually quotes an associate dean at the UMN-Twin Cities College of Education and Human Development. 

Name missing on chart

Beth, Take a look at the first chart. The fifth item in the chart has scores (92, 90, 90) but the place where the school name should be is blank. I know from following one of the links later in the article that those are the scores for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Deborah Dillon is quoted on the matter of outreach to minorities. But people reading the article have no way of knowing where the UoMTC came out in the tests.


I can see it on my computer. I wonder if it's a glitch. I'll ask our tech people. 

testing does not make a teacher

Tests do not make great teachers. Non educators do not understand this. In fact this story proves why standardized tests are flawed. They do not measure other skills and talents that are more important that rote based test proficiency. Teachers need strong interpersonal skills and cultural proficiency to work in inner city schools. They need the inherent ability to connect with students. I have seen many academically smart teachers fail because they can not manage a room, connect with parent and students or they teach above the level of what students know. Tests do not measure these strengths and talents yet are the most important trait a teacher must have. The academic language used in these tests is cultural biased towards the privileged in our society. In fact these tests prevent many spanish speaking and other non white teacher candidates from becoming teachers.

Our goal should be to have teachers who are "academically smart"

AND can manage a room and connect with parents and students.

David said he has seen "academically smart" teachers who can't do either. What David doesn't say is that, alas, we also have plenty of "academically dim" teachers who also can't manage a room or connect with students.

Tests are designed to assess reading and math skills. They are not designed to assess personal or character traits. Call me a crank, but I think teachers should be able to pass basic high school skills test.

I think teaching prep programs should also rigorously assess potential teachers for interpersonal skills and "grit" as well. I believe Teach for America already does this. So do plenty of other graduate schools and training programs.

In short, we don't have to choose between being academically and socially smart. We can have both.

Yes Lynnell, there are

Yes Lynnell, there are teachers who I wouldn't call "academically dim" but cannot cannot manage and connect, and those teachers are fired, regardless of seniority or tenure. You are correct that we don't have to choose between socially smart and test smart. However your definition of academically smart is based on bubble tests. I disagree that this narrow minded approach to learning is the proper way to define smartness. The former intelligence, social and emotional intelligence is more important in teaching than being test smart. In fact emotional intelligence is a higher indicator of success in our society than standardized tests. The problem is we have many great candidates who can't pass the test. I have taken the tests and I can say they are culturally biased toward a culture of privilege in this society in the language used. I believe many people truly see themselves as being an advocate for teachers or the our poor and underprivileged but do not understand that their privilege gives them advantages in taking these tests than our ELL learners or underprivileged do not have.

Almost all licensure tests for almost all other professions

rely largely on standardized "bubble" tests---including lawyers, doctors, accountants, pharmacists, architects, realtors, plumbers, social workers, psychologists, airline pilots, insurance sales people, priests--I mean, the list goes on and on and on. Some of these tests also have essay exams. But they are mostly bubble sheets.

So it just seems odd to hear that the teaching profession alone cannot be tested in such a fashion.... because too many people might fail such exams. Other professions simply don't talk like this.

I agree with you that standardized testing IS narrow. And you're right--it only defines one kind of smartness. But NO bubble exam could test for all the qualities needed to be successful in the classroom---or in any of those other professions that rely on bubble tests for their licensure exams. All standardized tests do is test for SOME of the BASIC knowledge that is considered necessary to be qualified to do the test.

On culture of privilege: It's interesting to note that Teach for America is especially successful attracting teachers of color. Last year, 39 percent of its 6,000 recruits for were teachers of color; 14 percent were African-American (or twice the national average of seven percent.) Yet TFA recruits appear to have very few problems passing the licensure exams in Minnesota or elsewhere.

One last question for you: Would you find the MTLEs be acceptable if:

a) there was no time limit when taking them?

b) waivers or accommodations were given to teachers for whom English is a second language?

It is a start

This is a start but the college skills portion should be waived for anyone that has the talent for teaching. They have to student teach, fulfill practicums, maintain a high GPA, take tests and write papers for each of their classes, and create lesson units/plans. It is very time consuming and challenging. Trust me I have done it. The fact is we need more teachers of color in our inner city schools. These tests prevent good teacher candidates from becoming teachers. Only 32 % of black candidates and 48 % of Hispanic candidates passed the math portion, 40% of black candidates and 55 % of Hispanics passed the reading portion, and 41 percent of blacks and 55 percent of Hispanics passed the writing portion. Again the fixation on tests is trivial and should NOT prevent good candidates from becoming teachers. Teaching is a skill and an art more than a science. I think once you start realizing that you will understand what makes a good teacher.

Can Canditates Take Tests?

There are two licensure "bubble" tests that all candidates must pass. One, the MTLE content test, is a test of their content area, such as math, social studies, elementary, art. These tests measure the Minnesota Content Standards of Effective Practice. The other "bubble" test is the MTLE pedagogy test and it measures the 125 Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice as well as the 22 additional teaching reading across the curriculum standards. Candidates can take tests and most pass these tests. No one is saying that teachers should be exempt from demonstrating their ability to teach. There are multiple measures that more than demonstrate the skills needed. More time to take a biased, unreliable, and invalid basic skills MTLE is not going to make the test better.

Let's not avoid the issue

It isn't rocket science. Teachers should be able to pass these basic skills test. No excuses, no hedging the bet. No high performing country in the world makes this many excuses or lowers the bar for people who will be teaching children. The fact that you can't pass a basic skills test may not say everything about your ability to teach, but it says enough.

Why argue for low standards?


These tests were called for by teachers, designed by teachers and tested for bias by teachers. 

Beth, I do not know the

Beth, I do not know the history of the these tests but I would guess they originated with NCLB. However wether or not they were tested for bias by teachers or anyone else does not mean they are not still in fact biased, represent rote based knowledge, and do not measure other talents and strengths that teachers need. I am also curious to know what teachers worked on this and how long they actually taught.

Beth, they were called for by

Beth, they were called for by the Board of Teaching, which includes only a handful of teachers, and while it's true that Minnesota teachers were involved in the selection of test items and of the review of bias of the items, we know little about their expertise regarding test bias. In any case, does this automatically mean that they got everything exactly right? By this same logic, mightn't one argue that this MTLE test should never have been developed at a level different from the Praxis 1 test, since the latter was also selected by the Board of Teaching and its teacher members? Finally, previously candidates were held harmless until there was a sufficient number of scores by Minnesota test takers to review results and determine whether scores had been properly set. This wise practice reflected the understanding that until there are actual test results, one can't assess whether the test is valid and reliable and whether it's scores are telling us what we need to know. I have no doubt about the knowledge and commitment of educators involved in the development of the MTLE test, but that doesn't guarantee that they got things right the first time.


And other members of the board represent institutions that belong to your MACTE. They advocated for this test. 

BOT membership

The current Board of Teaching has only two members who are also professors in higher education, and in teacher preparation programs. One Board representative is selected based upon their membership in higher education. One of the professors on the Board however was selected because he represents the interests of Minnesota School Boards and is a member of a Minnesota school board.


Thank you for noting your MACTE affiliation elsewhere in this thread. 

At the time the test was

At the time the test was developed, there was one MACTE member on the Board of Teaching. She is no longer on the BOT. And surely you're not suggesting that one vote from one MACTE member (or one of anything or any constituency, for that matter) somehow supersedes or negates all other voices. In fact, many MACTE members disagreed with the decisions at the time they were made, including expressing concerns and advancing different recommendations as members of the BOT's Standards and Rules committee before the official decision was made, and many have consistently attended BOT meetings over the past four years, often accompanied by students, to share real stories of problems with the test and seek changes.


What you have just said is one of the most dangerous inaccuracies perpetuated in this debate.

A. "Called for by teachers": Even if it was called for by teachers, teachers alone don't enact this type of legislation. If teachers had that much autonomy over these matters, I'm sure the pay scale would be different in most districts.

B. "Designed by teachers": Wrong again. The items were all brought in from Pearson and a small number of educators were part of the process of accepting or denying the items, but those educators did not design the proportionality of the topics or the overall method of administration of the items.

C. "Tested for bias by teachers": And that's a hat trick of wrong assertions, especially as the word "tested" is being used. When the task force met with the psychometricians from Pearson, the admitted to not testing items for any cultural bias at all, only looking for incorrect answers which received a disproportional amount of selections. Items were discussed at the initial meeting as being good items or not, but they have not gone any continue reliability, validity or bias testing on behalf of the test vendor at all since this test has begun.


I am curious whether you are the Christopher Smith who was co-chair of the Teacher Licensure Task Force? If so, I am also curious why you did not return my phones calls about the topic while I was reporting this story? And while we're on the topic of bias, I am curious why the task force did not so much as discuss Pearson's offer to rework the exams, free of charge, if problematic questions were found?

no excuses for math

A large number of the failures are in math. Math can't be culturally biased. It should probably make us consider why we let people spend four years in college without taking any math classes. It's seen as acceptable for students to brush off math as something for nerds, and yet we expect engineers and scientists to be able to read.

Jeff, the bias is reflected

Jeff, the bias is reflected in the language of the questions, not the math itself. This is probably not a very good example, but to make the point, if answering a math question correctly requires an understanding of what a fish house is, then someone who has never heard of a fish house will have problems regardless of the math involved. And a teacher who has lived his or her whole life in Minnesota who reviews the question for bias may not stop to think that someone coming here from Thailand or Somalia or Brazil won't have a clue what an ice house is.

¿Hablas español?


With all due respect, both points of your comment are incorrect.

First, it is the writing exam, not the mathematics exam, which has the higher failure rate. That would be shown in the public domain data summary available through the MN Dept of Education, not the confidential data summary leaked for this report.

Second, as someone who works in mathematics education, grew up in a multicultural home and has taken the actual MTLE examination, I can tell you that there can be - and are - biases in the math examination based on the language and items surrounding the exam. For example, suppose that you took this exam, but everything in it was in Spanish. How do you think you would fare? Do you think you could answer the word problems? Do you think you would be in a "no excuse" position then?

Before you say that this is an absurd position, most of the international teachers that are brought in to teach in immersion schools - meaning that all of their instruction will be in a language other than English - find themselves in that very position.


If you were going to teach kids math in Spanish, I would hope you could pass the test.

Teachers can retake the test

Teaching students to pass a standardized test is going to be essential for a modern teacher. What does it say that a potential teacher cannot teach themselves to pass a standardized test despite multiple attempts?

"Starting in 2016-2017, accredited programs will need to admit cohorts of students who score in the top 50 percent on college and graduate-school admissions tests or other assessments. In 2018-2019, the window narrows to the top 40 percent and in 2020 to the top 33 percent."

This is a requirement that could restrict the supply of teachers unnecessarily. Is teaching an attractive enough profession to attract the top 33% of young talent in sufficient numbers?

this is pure speculation on my part, but

I think it fact, I think if we raised standards and rigor for teacher prep programs it would attract even more young talent. Teach for America is highly competitive. Students apply in droves. Only about 10-20 percent are accepted. It may be counter-intuitive, but that's part of the attraction.

Contrast that with typical teacher prep programs in Minnesota and elsewhere, which for decades have had a reputation for being weak and attracting college students ranked at the BOTTOM THIRD of their class. Many teaching programs have had few if any standards for entry---all you needed was a pulse and a checkbook.

So high-achieving college students who knew they wanted to be teachers often ended up choosing something else. Or becoming education majors in spite of the ed programs, not because of them.

Right now, teacher prep programs are graduating twice as many people as needed to fill the need for teachers. If more rigor and higher standards cut their graduates in half, it might be a better fit. (And I doubt higher standards would do that.

For all the bemoaning of how no one is attracted to teaching any more, my two oldest sons, both of whom graduated near the top of their class from very good colleges, are both K-12 teachers. They could do many different careers, but at least at this point, they love what they do. And you bet having two or three months off in the summer, plus two weeks at Christmas, etc, is also part of the attraction. But they also like the kids, the complex intellectual and emotional challenge of teaching and their great colleagues.

Teachers are not coming from the bottom third of the class

Lynnell, Your statement about Minnesota teachers coming from the bottom third of their class is absolutely wrong. Please show where you pulled this data for Minnesota. I would like to see your source. I actually looked at that data at our institution and our teacher candidates had similar or higher ACT scores and grade point averages as compared with their peers. This is true for many other teacher candidates in our state. Misinformation like this can have very negative consequences. It has never been more difficult to become a teacher in Minnesota. It is a very rigorous process. To say that no standards are needed to get into teaching is just wrong.


This is a national statistic I have seen many times. And it does apply to some Minnesota institutions.  

I got the data from the National Council on Teacher Quality

and from its Teacher Prep Review report. And it's a figure I've seen elsewhere. But you're right---I should track down the original source. I remember way back in the day when the media (myself included, alas,) kept repeating that something like 2-3 million children went missing each year, which was nuts and it should have been obvious to all of us.

But all that being said, the National Council on Teacher Quality reviewed 26 teaching preparation programs in Minnesota. Last June, NCTQ reported that only 34 percent of Minnesota's teaching prep programs restricted admissions to the top half of the college-going population. I'm assuming that means that the other 65 percent had no admissions requirement at all for being in their program.

Chery, I believe you're the chair of the graduate school of education at St. Scholastica. Could you share your experience as head of its graduate education department? What kind of admissions standards does your school have? How many applicants applied in the last, say, three years? How many were accepted? What was the average ACT score for your students?

Many thanks for any info you could share.

Please see my posting elsewhere in the comments about the facts about high standards for teacher licensure in Minnesota teacher preparation institutions. NCTQ has not been recognized as a reliable or valid source of information either in this state or nationally, so the data reported here a out lack of entrance criteria in Minnesota is false. TFA will allow applications of candidates with a GPA of 2.5, but that doesn't mean that most of their applicant have a low GPA. Note the high average entrance GPAs for both undergraduate and graduate teacher candidates in Minnesota in my other post. It is extremely unproductive to continue the myth that Minnesota teachers come from the bottom of their class and select teaching as their fallback career. If all of our graduate teacher candidates were awarded a full teaching salary and $13,000 per year to pay for their college training while they become teachers, as is the case for TFA candidates, I believe you would see every graduate teacher preparation program in high demand. Recruitment, however, is not the only concern. Retaining highly effective teachers to make a difference in our classrooms long term is essential to closing the achievement gap. Research indicates that the continual replacement of teachers who only stay for 1-2 years lowers student achievement. Here Minnesota outshines other states with 50% of our licensed teachers from teacher preparation programs still teaching after 5 years. They are well prepared, committed, and there for the long haul to close the achievement gap in the classroom.

Recruitment & retention levers

I want to echo Kitty's remarks about recruitment and retention both being critical levers to strengthening the diversity, quality, and lasting commitment of Minnesota's teaching corps. Recruiting, selecting, and then supporting teachers that meet the needs of our high poverty schools is something I think a lot about (I recently wrote about it here, actually:, and at the same time retaining those teachers in education is one of the things that keeps me up at night.

One thing I've been thinking more about is the way in which the idea of "career" has changed dramatically--I saw this summer that 2013's college graduates would have, on average, 7 careers over the course of their time in the workforce. 7! This is why really strong professional development, career "ladder" opportunities, and mentorship is critically important for education to keep its young, talented teachers.

Lastly, a couple of additional details on the TFA points above:
- The GPA minimum for TFA in MN is now 3.0 (to be in alignment with the state's alternative licensure law); the average undergrad GPA of our teacher last year was 3.6. I completely agree that the minimum entry bar isn't a strong indicator in and of itself.
- TFA is an AmeriCorps program; given that, eligible candidates receive an AmeriCorps award for past or future educational uses. Most of our teachers do use their award to help offset the cost of their licensure program. For what it's worth, the cost of attaining licensure in MN is among the most if not the most expensive of any TFA region in the country. We've found that expense to be one of the most significant barriers to recruiting a more diverse (particularly racially & socio-economically) teaching corps, and are exceedingly fortunate to be able to provide people with that financial support so they are able to begin teaching.

Crystal Brakke
Executive Director, TFA Twin Cities


I've been reading the comments and I've seen you mention TFA as a good model for providing teachers. This is not true. TFA teachers receive a few weeks of training for a very difficult and technical job. In order to earn my teaching license I got a bachelors degree and then a master's degree in education. I took two full years of education course work and then I student taught for 12 weeks. This high rigor of training I received has prepared me to be a fantastic teacher. I spend a lot of time in various classrooms throughout the day and the one thing I have noticed about every TFA teacher is that they are the worst teachers I have ever seen in my life. Every single one of them. They do not know many of the very basic things about teaching that I learned in my first year at graduate school. Their classroom management is terrible, their lessons are boring and they have no relationships with students. A 22 year old who got straight A's in college doesn't know anything about how to effectively teach and it shows. If you are arguing that teacher prep programs are not rigorous, why would you then argue that a few weeks of training is more rigorous than the three years of training that licensed teachers complete?

This is troubling to read, of

This is troubling to read, of course--if you're up for it, I'd be interested in setting up time to talk so I can hear more about the schools you're visiting and what trends you're seeing in classrooms. What you're describing is very different from my own observations in local schools, and also what we hear from principals in person and in surveys (an independent organization surveys them on a big range of questions to get at the effectiveness of our teachers; this summer 100% of principals agreed TFA teachers were making a positive difference at their school, for example). I have loads of data but don't want to over-data this, I'm just interested in hearing more. My email is Thanks!

I could email you but...

I could email you with the specifics of my experiences but I don't believe this would be constructive. I fundamentally believe that all teachers should be fully trained and licensed before taking charge of a classroom. I believe that children who are living in poverty need the best teachers with the most training and experience not the other way around. I believe that TFA is bad for schools, bad for students and bad for the teaching profession. One thing that would I would like to accomplish in my career is making sure that TFA is either eliminated or totally changed. For example these college kids could have the same meaningful experience by working as teachers aids or paraprofessionals before they move out of education and into their real careers. This way students are not subjected to unlicensed teachers, but these college kids still get to feel good about helping poor kids for a couple of years after college. Another idea is that TFA could only place their "teachers" in the most affluent schools. These students aren't in such dire need of excellent teaching so they will be okay if they have an unlicensed teacher now and then. I am fully opposed to your organization and I know many licensed teachers and community members who feel the same way. Our children deserve better and we are going to work to make sure that's what they get.

Fundamentally disagree, but time to move on

Thanks for clarifying your original statement--I appreciate the honesty about your aim, if nothing else.

There's just one more point that I'd like make in response, and then will wish you well in your endeavors: it's a fundamental mistruth that people "move out of education and into their real careers." Of the folks that started teaching via TFA in Minnesota, roughly 90% continue to work in education full time or in low-income communities. (Half are teaching--as noted elsewhere on this massive thread, that's roughly on par with national averages for all new teachers.) It's time to put an end to the myth that people just "do TFA" before moving on to other things.

Yes let's move on

My belief that TFA is bad for schools, students and the teaching profession came only after watching terrible TFA teacher after terrible TFA teacher fail in the classroom. I'd just like to point out that you have to say 90% stay in "education full time or in low income communities" because so few of them actually become career teachers. One can assume that working in education full time could mean any number of things and working in low income communities could mean almost anything. My profession is highly technical and requires education, experience, and skill. When people stop seeing it as something they can just pick up and do after a few weeks of training, that will be the first step in fixing America's schools.

Let's be serious

You think a 24 year old that comes from the bottom of the college cognitive pool, takes many expensive and theoretical class, and student teaches often with teachers that have not been verified by any quality control is prepared to be a "fantastic teacher"?

On what planet?

Almost no one believes first and second year teachers coming from colleges of education are being prepared to be "fantastic" teachers.


Where do you get your information?

To me, it sounds like you get your information from inside your own head. I personally graduated in the top of my college class but anecdotal evidence aside, you should read the previous posts about how your belief that teachers come from the bottom of their classes is a myth. You clearly have zero experience with teacher training programs, which is why you description of them is so very wrong. It's okay, I've never taken an accounting course, I'm sure if I were to have an opinion about that course it would be also be wrong. My classes were hands on and required me to spend lots of time in classrooms working with students. I use many of the text books from those classes on a weekly basis. Everything I learned is currently being applied in my profession. Another thing you have no real information about is the student teaching process. One thing I teach my students is the difference between fact and opinion, your statement that student teaching is not valuable because you don't understand how the process works is not a fact. Observing a veteran teacher and gradually assuming more responsibility for teaching while being closely supervised by a university advisor who spent at least ten years in the classroom is very valuable. I would argue that it is essential for anyone in charge of a classroom to go through this process. It's unfortunate that you have so little respect for teachers, especially since your lack of respect is not based on fact. You sir, are part of the problem not part of the solution.

Unbecoming a teacher

Perhaps you are correct about me. Perhaps not.

But, what about Arthur Levine? (

Could you please provide a link to a study that says graduates from your program are prepared to be "fantastic" teachers in their first year?

I googled it but all I see are studies saying first and second year teachers are not "fantastic," but, apparently they get better after a few years on the job.


poor analogy to legal testing

I think the comparison to bar passage is off. Nationally, state bar passing rates range from 57 - 89%, lower still in some American territories (2012 total pass rates, National Council of Bar Examiners). Furthermore, the basic skills tests for teachers are not equivalent to the bar exam which tests knowledge of state and federal law and legal process. The content knowledge and pedagogy tests that all teachers must take are analogous to the bar.

The MTLE-basic skills test college algebra and geometry, advanced writing and reading comprehension, making them, if anything, equivalent to the LSAT a test that is taken for entry into law school. Even there the analogy breaks down. LSAT takers don't need to know any math nor do any extensive writing. The LSAT tests reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning on the assumption that those skills are central to the "habits of mind" cultivated in legal training.

Another poster asked about the rigor of these exams. Below are the areas tested for basic skills in math for all teachers. Remember that Math and Science teacher candidates will still be tested on higher math than this during their content knowledge testing. Currently there are a minimum of 6 state examinations for anyone to become a teacher. The three basic skills tests, the content knowledge test, the pedagogy test, and a nationally scored teaching performance assessment. The basic skills get talked about like one exam in some conversations, but they are battery of three different exams that are registered and paid for separately and scored separately.

(from the MTLE website)
Basic Skills Math
Understand numbers and the number system.

demonstrating knowledge of the properties of integers, rational and real numbers, and number operations
demonstrating fluency in computation, including operations on decimals, percents, fractions, and exponents
using number sense and different number representations to solve mathematical and real-world problems


Apply principles of algebra to expressions and equations.

analyzing and extending a variety of patterns
using the concepts of variable, equality, and equation to generate, interpret, and evaluate algebraic expressions based on verbal descriptions
manipulating algebraic expressions and solving equations using a variety of techniques (e.g., performing operations, simplifying, factoring)
applying algebraic principles to represent and solve word problems involving fractions, ratios, proportions, and percents


Apply principles of algebra to linear and nonlinear functions.

distinguishing between relations and functions
translating between different representations (e.g., tables, verbal descriptions, equations, graphs) of linear and nonlinear functions
relating the characteristics of a linear equation (e.g., slope, intercepts) to its graph
selecting a linear equation that best models a real-world situation, and interpreting the slope and intercepts in the context of the problem
selecting a nonlinear function that best models a real-world situation
solving linear equations, systems of linear equations, and inequalities symbolically and graphically
analyzing the graph of a nonlinear function (e.g., quadratic, rational, exponential)


Understand measurement concepts.

estimating and calculating measurements using metric, customary, and nonstandard units, unit conversions, and dimensional analysis in real-world situations
applying formulas to calculate perimeter, circumference, length, area, surface area, volume, and angles for two- and three-dimensional figures in mathematical and real-world situations
estimating and calculating measurements indirectly using the Pythagorean theorem, ratios, proportions, and the principles of similarity and congruence
determining how the characteristics of geometric figures (e.g., area, volume) are affected by changes in their dimensions
solving a variety of measurement problems (e.g., time, temperature, rates of change)


Understand the principles of geometry.

analyzing polygons using attributes of sides, angles, and parallel and perpendicular lines
analyzing three-dimensional figures using attributes of faces, edges, and vertices
applying geometrical transformations (e.g., translations, reflections, rotations) to geometric figures and using the concepts of symmetry, similarity, and congruence to solve problems
using coordinate geometry to analyze geometric figures
using algebraic methods (e.g., Pythagorean theorem, coordinate geometry) to solve mathematical and real-world problems
analyzing arguments and justifying conclusions based on geometric concepts


Demonstrate knowledge of data, statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics.

using measures of central tendency (e.g., mean, median) and spread (e.g., range) to draw conclusions and make predictions from data
selecting appropriate ways to display data and statistical information (e.g., tables, circle graphs, histograms)
analyzing and drawing inferences from data presented in different formats (e.g., frequency distributions, percentiles, graphs)
calculating probabilities for simple, compound, independent, dependent, and conditional events described in various ways (e.g., word problems, tree diagrams, Venn diagrams)
identifying real-world applications of topics in discrete mathematics (e.g., graph theory, combinatorics, algorithms, iteration)


Understand mathematical processes and perspectives.

selecting an appropriate problem-solving strategy for a situation (e.g., estimation, drawing a picture, working backward, using manipulatives)
using mathematical reasoning and principles of logic to evaluate arguments (e.g., distinguishing between inductive and deductive reasoning, applying principles of logic, using counterexamples, evaluating informal proofs) and determining the reasonableness of solutions to problems
translating between verbal descriptions and mathematical language, notation, and symbols (e.g., function notation, set notation, order relations)
identifying connections between mathematical concepts, other academic disciplines, and technology

Math Component

My classmates who had trouble with the math component had not had a math class since freshman year or even high school. 4-5 years with no exposure to math tends to make one rusty. Many of them knew they were probably going to need a refresher course, which was offered by the university, but took the test hoping to get lucky.

Teachers Tire of Media Bullying

I am a teacher educator. I am one of many who has worked tirelessly for the last two years advocating for an alternative to the MTLE "basic skills" test. I have presented this topic at state conferences and I have worked with legislators to shed light on the ills of this exam. Early data out of Saint Cloud State was the first red flag of many that affirms that this test is unjust. I have seen teacher candidates earn master's degrees and fail this test. They are bright, talented and well-prepared to teach. What makes this test doubly-appalling is that it provides minimal preparation materials, minimal to no feedback and it generates enormous revenue for Pearson because it is expensive for teacher candidates to take (and often re-take).

Disappointingly one-sided story

My father was a journalist and later a journalism professor, and he would never have accepted a piece as one-sided, inaccurate, and ill-informed as this one. We heard much from those who support the current test and their own assessments of what the results on this test tell us (and, by the way, few if any of them has, to my knowledge, any psychometric expertise), yet almost nothing from those who have advocated replacing this specific test with other measures of reading, writing, and math skills nor, more to the point, data about the very high pass rates or assessed levels of performance of students in these same programs on other required assessments, including tests of pedagogy (essentially, the art and skills of teaching) and content (the subject or subjects to be taught), student teaching, and more recently, the performance-based edTPA. In addition, the cavalier way in which concerns about bias against test takers who are non-native English speakers and/or individuals of color were dismissed, along with the lack of reference to the many concerns raised by students with disabilities whose requests for accommodations were denied or ignore, is stunning. This article undermines opportunities for legitimate discussion and debate about this important issue because of it's obvious bias and insufficient information.


I will point out that the co-chairs of the task force failed to return calls seeking comment. One of them told the Star Tribune regarding a story several weeks ago about the controversy at the legislature that "everyone" would feel "pretty good" about a passage rate of 72-73 percent--less than the line on our chart. 

Context please

My apologies for not being able to return your call. In retrospect, this feels very fortuitous as I don't think much of what I would have had to offer would have fit into your article. Based on the tone and approach of both this article and your comments, please rest assured that they will not be returned in the future, either.

My quote in the Star-Tribune, by the way, was about all demographics passing at a 72% rate, a far departure from how you have misquoted me here. Rather than share the data which is clearly marked "confidential" at the top, why not share the data which is in the public domain and which shows several ethnic minority groups passing the exam in the 32% - 39% range? That is what my quote expressed, that the inequities across demographics is a major concern for those of us that have looked at the larger data picture.

Please do not take my quotes out of context to try to make your point, which happens to be antithetical to my position, in the future.


Why keep this particular data set confidential? 

18 out of 33?

Wow. Is this pathetic! Maybe teacher programs should test for basic skills before students enter the program to weed out those that can't handle college level work. The borderline students can be retested with the MTLE basic skills test after they graduate. Lowering the standard will make things worse, not better.


That is essentially what other states are doing. 

No room for growth?

In a word, no.

I like to believe that my students have the potential for growth, the ability to learn. I suppose not everyone shares that progressive view.


How much English and Math is in the teaching curriculum after the first year? Or science for that matter? My friends in the education field seemed to focus on different classes starting their 2nd or 3rd year?

How do you see that "potential for growth" being fulfilled in the areas of academic achievement required to pass these tests in years 2, 3 & 4?

To help you understand my perspective... I am a Licensed Professional Mechanical Engineer, which means I had to pass a bubble test , work for 5 years and then pass an even more challenging test.

How much bearing would you say

Passing that bubble test had on your ability to be any engineer. I loved bubble tests, I'm great at rote memorization, but I can tell you not once in my life did my ability in any job I've had hinge on my skill at taking multiple choice and or standardized tests. Its simply a lazy shortcut to make the task of assessing skill and achievement convenient, sadly is generally only assesses one's skill at test taking.

Rote Memorization

What does rote memorization have to do with bubble tests?

Bubble tests just give you at least a 1 in 4 chance of getting the correct answer, and they are inexpensive and quick to grade. Even my PE Exam used bubbles... However you needed to complete a page of calculations before knowing which bubble to shade in.

I think knowing that I could correctly complete that page of calculations correctly was pretty important. Especially if I was designing a beam to hold up a dynamic load... Like a ski chair lift system, or an elevator, etc...

A fundamental problem with using

law school and passing the bar as an analogy to the problem(s) we face in teaching is:

Very few law schools actually teach to the test - the test being the bar exam. Most law students take an (expensive) review course that is pointed at the bar exam. Law students also study months in preparation for the bar.

So this is not an apples to apples comparison.

The point about math avoidance is well taken. You don't need to be a math whiz to teach second grade. So you could argue that PERHAPS our standards are too high for math. [And do not take this as a slam at second grade teachers. My (male) neighbor teaches second grade and he is an excellent teacher and role model.]

However, I really believe that anyone can do math through algebra and trig if they are given a fair shot. There is a reluctance to teach remedial math in college, but perhaps we should swallow our pride and do it. At the very least, schools that prepare students for a teaching career should make review sessions available at a reasonable cost to review materials in preparation for these exams.

And the pass rates should be made widely available so that students will know who is doing a good job at this important task as well as to encourage schools to do what it takes so that their students can pass these exams.

And thank you Beth, for another excellent article. It is hard to discuss these topics and keep everyone happy, but your efforts in this area are greatly appreciated.

Arithmetic and mathematics

I realized in 5th or 6th grade that I would never be able to follow in my father's footsteps as an aeronautical engineer. Why? Because I realized even then that "higher" mathematics made absolutely no sense to me.

It still doesn't.

I'm reasonably competent, despite my increasing age, at arithmetic. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide quite well. When I took the GRE in preparation for grad school many years ago – a plan that various real-life episodes prevented from ever getting off the ground – my scores on every section of that particular "bubble" test were all in the 90s. My math score, however, was 60, and it was only that high because some of the questions involved arithmetic, which I can do, and lucky guesses on a few others.

As soon as someone puts an equation in front of me, or tries substituting a letter for an unknown quantity instead of a number, my brain simply stops. I got through high school algebra on the basis of "brownie points" with the teacher and some sort of cosmic intervention, not on the basis of any kind of demonstrated mathematical competence. When I got to college, I knew full well that my math background was lacking, so I (voluntarily) signed up for a remedial math course. The only academic tests I've ever failed were in that course. I did quite well on the first test, which focused on arithmetic skills, but in succeeding weeks, my test scores declined precipitously, so that my test results for the last few units of the course, on algebra, trig and calculus, were all solid F's, most with scores in the 40s (out of 100) or lower, and most of those few points coming as the result of sheer guesswork on my part.

If my life depended on my ability to do "higher" mathematics – so far, fortunately, it has not – I'd die quickly. Algebra might as well be Klingon, and anything beyond that is totally incomprehensible to me.

I should add that, in my 30 classroom years (1966-1996), not once did I find it necessary to use "higher mathematics" to teach history, geography, government, introductory psychology, or any other course I was assigned by the department chair. Because the hard mathematical work had already been done for me, I was able to set up and use spreadsheets to monitor student performance (and that of the girls' softball team of which I was the head coach). I was able to explain to my American Studies class how the expansion of gasses caused by the ignition of gunpowder pushes the bullet down the barrel of a rifle (they'd asked about old-fashioned muzzle-loading firearms). Had I been asked to phrase that explanation in mathematical terms, however, I couldn't do it. I believe the explanation was effective, nonetheless.

Math is essential for science and engineering. Being neither scientist nor engineer, I've managed to live reasonably happily and productively without understanding it. That's not to discount its importance, just to note that saying "everyone" needs that ability strikes me as a dubious assumption.

People seem fixated on the math test

Looking through the data it appears the math test "pass" rate isn't that different from the reading or writing tests.

Thanks for your comment Ray.

I agree that a knowledge of calculus is not necessary to teach in elementary school. Algebra and trig is debatable, but I will take your word as given above, that a very decent teacher can be math challenged in those areas.

I am always puzzled, though, by the problem we have in the US, even with algebra and trig. As I'm sure you know in many cultures math proficiency is a sort of given. I wonder why this is?

I always enjoy your comments though. They have the wisdom of experience.

Bill Gleason


I haven't followed Ms. Hawkins articles in Minnpost, but is she a public education "privatizer"?

Safe to say

No. Not no way, not no how.

The Facts About the High Bar for Effective Minnesota Teachers

Minnesota teacher preparation programs are deeply committed to high quality, rigorous, and fair licensure requirements. The Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (MACTE), which represents all 31 teacher preparation institutions, believes that an undue emphasis on Minnesota’s current “basic skills” test, which measures skills far above a basic level, trivializes the professional expertise and preparation needed for effective teacher candidates. Teaching today is a complex and demanding profession that requires extensive skills and multiple measures to determine who is “classroom ready.”

Current Measures of Teacher Candidate Effectiveness.

Minnesota teacher candidates must demonstrate mastery of academic content and teaching skills in all of the following ways:

1. Passing MTLE (Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exams) “basic skills” tests designed to measure mid-college to end of college-level reading, mathematics and writing skills. Before 2010, Minnesota used the Praxis I test, which measures college ready skills and is the test used by the other 40 states who assess basic skills. Most Minnesota preparation programs had extremely high passing rates under the Praxis I test;
2. Passing MTLE content tests in the content areas in which they will be licensed to teach,
3. Passing MTLE pedagogy tests that assess pedagogical knowledge (specialized knowledge and skills for effective teaching);
4. Demonstrating professional knowledge, skills and attitudes through documented completion of curriculum and assessments that meet Minnesota’s Standards of Effective Practice (see a description below for the types and numbers of standards that make up the complex nature of teaching);
5. Achieving required course grades in foundational knowledge, content knowledge, and teaching methods;
6. Maintaining the teacher preparation program’s required GPA;
7. Demonstrating effective teaching skills in classrooms through extensive, supervised field experiences (minimum of 100 hours) prior to student teaching;
8. Demonstrating effective teaching skills in classrooms through long-term, supervised student teaching experiences (minimum of 480 hours) prior to licensure;
9. Completing and submitting for local and national assessment the edTPA performance assessment, which is a week-long performance of teaching that includes planning, instruction, video-taping and reflecting on the teaching, assessing student learning and providing effective feedback, assessing the impact of teaching on student learning, addressing the needs of diverse learners including evidence of adapting teaching to meet the needs of English language learners, and reflecting upon how to modify and improve teaching and learning;
10. Providing ongoing evidence of teacher effectiveness and P-12 student learning through other program specific measures that go beyond the Standards of Effective Practice.

Not everyone is admitted to teacher preparation programs in Minnesota and not everyone is recommended for licensure. The minimum GPA required for admission into teacher education programs varies by institution and program, and admission can be competitive with the average GPA of Minnesota teacher education candidates admitted into undergraduate programs at 3.25 and for graduate programs the average is 3.68. The average GPA for teacher candidates who exit undergraduate programs is 3.46 and for graduate programs the average GPA is 3.80. Although required to spend 540 hours in field experiences and student teaching, teacher candidates in Minnesota spend on average 740 hours working with P-12 students in field experiences and in student teaching while under the supervision of highly qualified school and college educators before they are recommended for licensure.

Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice.

The Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice (SEPs) define the body of skills and knowledge that Minnesota expects all teachers to possess before they are licensed to begin practice. Approved teacher preparation programs must document how all of these standards are taught, practiced, and assessed in order to recommend candidates for licensure by the state. The SEPs include the following 10 standards and 125 substandards. There are additional Standards of Effective Practice that must be met by each content area and field of licensure. Beginning in 2010, teacher preparation programs were required to amend their practices to include an additional 22 content area standards to assess candidates’ ability to not only read in their content area but to teach reading across the curriculum using scientifically based reading strategies.

Standard 1 - Subject matter – 10 specific substandards
Standard 2 – Student learning – 8 specific substandards
Standard 3 – Diverse learners – 18 specific substandards
Standard 4 – Instructional strategies – 12 specific substandards
Standard 5 – Learning environment – 18 specific substandards
Standard 6 – Communication – 11 specific substandards
Standard 7 – Planning instruction – 8 specific substandards
Standard 8 – Assessment – 14 specific substandards
Standard 9 – Reflection and professional development – 13 specific substandards
Standard 10 – Collaboration, ethics, and relationships – 13 specific substandards
Amendments - Reading across the curriculum standards – 22 specific substandards

Responding to Concerns about the MTLE Basic Skills Test.

It should be noted that Pearson’s offer to fix problems with the test was made via a one-page, unsigned memo distributed at the end of the Task Force process and after the group had taken an initial measure of members’ preferred recommendations for action. For the previous four years, Pearson had been largely unresponsive to ongoing concerns expressed by students, faculty, and staff about test bias, test administration, test accommodations, test feedback to students and programs, and test preparation material support. Minnesota teachers and teacher preparation programs are not afraid of standards or meeting expectations. MACTE, like the vast majority of members on the Teacher Licensure Task Force, including teachers, school board members, school administrators, legislators, staff of the Minnesota Department of Education, and higher education faculty members, believes that when accumulated evidence calls into question the validity, reliability, and fairness of tests that as a result keep otherwise competent and eager teachers from serving our students, change is needed. We cannot afford to cling to tests that raise serious questions about fairness, trivialize the complexity of the teaching profession, and prevent us from recruiting and retaining effective teachers for Minnesota students.

Kathleen Foord
President, Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

Source documents and technical data documents

The links for your source documents and technical data pdfs are not functioning. In the interest of full disclosure, could you rectify that?

Are these tests

Multiple choice? If they are, they are worthless indicators of success in anything.

Who wrote this article?

Cindy Crist was correct in noting the one-sidedness of this article, which is indeed disappointing as I am a big fan of Beth Hawkins. As a member of the Teacher Licensure Task Force, the article comes across as having been ghost written by one of the task force's dissenting minority members. Credibility is in question when balance is abandoned after just two potential sources don't respond.

There are so many things wrong with this article it is difficult to know where to start. First, the headline suggests teacher-prep programs are leaving graduates unprepared due to the number who fail arbitrary timed college level bubble tests in math, reading and writing. To my knowledge, none of the teacher prep programs even pretend to be preparing teachers in those areas. They are preparing teachers to TEACH. Students in these programs focus on pedagogy and content knowledge.

The article notes "A mounting body of research shows that the top-performing education systems internationally recruit future teachers from the top of their academic classes." Note that not one such actual study was introduced during the task force meetings. Second, Beth, did you get the citations for the mounting body of research? After the fact, one study was referenced at a legislative committee hearing, Why weren't any of these allegedly large number of studies cited? I challenge anyone to bring forward a study that shows any correlation between accomplishing college level scores on the MTLE - or any other timed bubble tests of math, reading and writing - and teacher effectiveness. Again, none were presented to the task force. And the only study I've ever heard mentioned by the MTLE proponents, referenced after the fact at a legislative hearing, makes no actual specific mention of required scores on math, reading and writing tests for teacher candidates in the "top performing education systems" internationally.

In addition, it appears, Beth, that you were not aware, or for some inexplicable reason failed to mention in the article, that everyone, including the task force, supports the continued practice of teacher candidates having to pass MTLE tests in pedagogy and in their content area. It took readers to make that very important point in their comments. There is a misnomer out there that the task force and others are opposed to all teacher candidate assessments. Surely we can all agree that high level knowledge of pedagogy and subject area are the critical areas we want to test in our teacher candidates. Math teachers pass a rigid math content exam. Social Studies teacher pass a rigid social studies content exam. Spanish teachers pass a rigid Spanish content exam. Etc. In addition, they all pass a rigid exam in the methods, concepts and practice of teaching (pedagogy).

We can dream that by raising the bar to teacher preparation program entry by increasing the required scores on timed bubble sheet tests in reading, math and writing will somehow drive students who were thinking about entering medicine, law or investment banking into teaching, but the reality is that until our country actually demonstrates that teaching is a valued and respected position, including but not limited to the possibility of higher pay for those who demonstrate excellence, in reality all that will be accomplished by shutting the door to those out who don't reach the desired score on these non-teaching related tests is a decrease in the teacher candidate field, the loss of many potentially outstanding instructors, and, perhaps most important, an even wider gap between ethnically diverse candidates and those who are white/native born. Beth, you included data on pass rates by college in your article, but did you even look at the data on pas rates by ethnicity? The fail rates of Black, Asian and Hispanic candidates is off the charts higher than those of White candidates. I pray that it is not an unspoken goal of the MTLE proponents to eventually have a white teacher in every classroom, including in ethnically diverse schools.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone is stuck on maintaining the MTLE. Other states don't use the MTLE. One of the task force recommendations was to at least move to a nationally recognized college readiness test such as the ACT or SAT, and let the Board of Teaching do their job and determine benchmarks.

Beth, thank you for your devotion to and focus on education issues. No offense, but I guess you can't be expected to get it right every time. Teaching is not only a skill, but it is also an art. The focus placed on non-education criteria in the form of these not-so-basic skills tests is misplaced, and it detracts from what the important focus should be, which is finding a quality teacher for every classroom, one who is an expert in his or her subject area, is accomplished in the methods and practice of teaching, and who can motivate and inspire students to reach their potential.

Teacher Effectiveness

"I challenge anyone to bring forward a study that shows any correlation between accomplishing college level scores on the MTLE - or any other timed bubble tests of math, reading and writing - and teacher effectiveness."

How would someone do that? Teachers have been avoiding "effectiveness" measures for decades... They don't mind grading our children, but sure don't want to be graded.

"To my knowledge, none of the teacher prep programs even pretend to be preparing teachers in those areas."
Really, teacher training at universities does not prepare Teachers to perform mid-college level English and Math?

"the reality is that until our country actually demonstrates that teaching is a valued and respected position, including but not limited to the possibility of higher pay for those who demonstrate excellence"
Sorry... But isn't it the Unions that demand we reward Teachers based on years served and level of education? I am with you George, let's change the system so the best Teachers are paid the most no matter their tenure or education level.

And again, how are we going to judge "excellence" with the fear of being quantitatively measured that the public education system has shown?

Thanks for all this information, George.

I found it really helpful.

Here's where I'm getting confused: If everyone supports the continued practice of teacher candidates having to pass MTLE tests in pedagogy and in their content area, then what is the task force proposing it the general knowledge MTLE test for K-5?

Also, did the task force specify what the minimum ACT and SAT scores would have to be, if those tests replaced the MTLEs.

In your opinion, what's the difference between requiring a minimum score for ACTs and SATs and the MTLEs? Wouldn't we be back in the same position with people saying these scores were unfair for ELL and/or candidates of color because of test bias, etc?

I'm not asking as a way to advance an argument. I'm just trying to fully understand the issue.

Many thanks in advance for any help you---or anyone else can provide.

A common question

I was asked this very question by the MN House of Representatives Education subcommittee only a few weeks ago.

The answer is actually deceptively simple: we know what effective pedagogy and content-specific content knowledge looks like. That is codified across the state. These other exams are not uniformly agreed upon in the same way. In short, what is "basic" for one teacher my not be "basic" or "expected" for another.

The task force would not be able to set the ACT/SAT minimum score; that would be for the BOT to decide. I did provide what my own research showed as correlating scores for the ACT to MTLE, but that was aligning the the current MTLE cut-score.

One big difference between the ACT/SAT and MTLE are the former are nationally noted exams and the latter is not. And those other exams contains biases as well... Which is why colleges and universities use a broad range of information in making college acceptance decisions, which is exactly what the task force recommendation entailed. Scoring below a mark does not preclude you from a school, neither does a high mark automatically admit you; rather, it is the full body of your work that counts. The same should be true for teachers as well.

Thanks for the response, Christopher

According to your research (and thanks for doing it!) what are the correlating scores for the ACT to MTLE in terms of aligning it with the current MTLE-cut score. 20? 25? Or higher? Or lower?

I second Lynnell

I agree with you that test scores should only be part of the evaluation, however I am very interested to hear what ACT score would be required to be a teacher.

Basic Skills vs Content

Lynell, I think I can help with your question about the proposal.

They are all called MTLEs which adds to the confusion. The Basic skills tests, those tests that this article is debating, are standardized tests of reading, writing and math. That's it.

Every Birth to 12 license candidate in MN: Early childhood teachers, elementary K-6 teachers, K-12 specialist teachers, and grade 5-12 teachers in both core and elective subjects all take tests assessing their knowledge of the content they have to teach.

You asked specifically about elementary teachers. They take a content knowledge test that measures knowledge of principles of reading, math, general science, history and civics, basic health, characteristics of art for elementary students, and other content areas defined in the licensing rules as required knowledge for an elementary teacher.

Cut and pasted from Pearson, here is the list of topics that each MN elementary teaching candidate is tested on now, and will continue to be testing on whether the basic skills tests change or not. Below that is the link to pearson site with this information. It is very helpful to go to that link and look at the sample questions.

MTLE Elements: Elementary Education (Grades K–6)

Subtest 1: I. Reading
Subtest 1: II. Communication Arts

Subtest 2: I. Mathematics
Subtest 2: II. Health/Fitness and Fine Arts

Subtest 3: I. Science
Subtest 3: II. Social Studies


I believe the task force recommended that the board of teaching be the agent to determine minimum academic achievement. I don't recall seeing any minimum "scores" in their recommendations.