Friday, June 16, 2006


Nebraska and Montana are now the only states that do not require a new elementary teacher to take a content-based competency test in order to receive a teaching certificate.

Iowa just caved in to that requirement after the U.S. Department of Education said it would withhold millions in federal grants, because of the lack of compliance with No Child Left Behind law.

Iowa had been using its own system of evaluating student teachers on a variety of criteria to determine classroom readiness. Those include classroom management, lesson planning and parent-teacher interaction. Iowa officials say they plan to continue their own teacher-training routine, and just add the tests as another step along the way. Now prospective teachers will have to pass a basic-skills test covering math, reading, social studies and science.

Beginning in 2007, all new incoming elementary teachers in Iowa will take a $100 test, called Praxis II. The test costs about $100 per student. From 2,000 to 3,000 people receive teaching licenses in Iowa each year.

Here's the funny part, though: many years ago, when I first learned that Nebraska didn't give prospective teachers a competency test, I bought a Praxis book with a sample test at the University of Nebraska at Omaha bookstore, just to see how hard it was. It didn't look all that hard to me. I gave it to my seventh-grade daughter. Now, I'm the first to admit it: she's smart.

BUT SHE DID NOT MISS A SINGLE QUESTION ON IT!!!!!!! And she was 12 years old. I still have the book. Since that was about 10 years ago, maybe the updated version is more challenging. But I doubt it.

So what's the risk to any college graduate? If a 12-year-old can get 100%, can an education major actually worry about failing it? What do they have to lose? The average teaching job is now worth about $42,000 a year. Is $100 too much to ask as a fail-safe?

What does it say about Nebraska, that we resist this objective measurement, that can provide bare-bones accountability to the public?

And for how many years have I been saying that there are teachers in this state who don't have as much academic ability as the kids they teach, and ought to be out of a job?

Maybe I'm wrong. I sure hope I am. But let's get going with Praxis before we lose our federal funding, and prove it.

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