Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam results show dramatic racial disparity

For mysterious reasons, blacks are having a much tougher time passing the Teaching Licensure Exam than whites.
For mysterious reasons, blacks are having a much tougher time passing the Teaching Licensure Exam than whites.
Image by Tatiana Craine -- classroom photo from Cherice on Flickr

These days, aspiring Minnesota teachers have to pass the Teaching Licensure Exam in order to get a license. That's reasonable enough, but the exam's results suggest the process isn't working as it should.

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State data shows blacks are having a disproportionately tough time passing the exam, leading some to believe the exam is racially and/or ethnically biased.

From MPR:

According to state data, 76 percent of all teacher candidates have passed the basic skills math test since 2010. But only 26 percent of African American and 45 percent of Hispanic teachers passed.

On the reading test, 77 percent of all test-takers have passed; only 37-percent of blacks have and 49 percent of Hispanics have, while 79 percent of whites passed. On the writing test, 77 percent of all candidates have passed, including 79 percent of whites, but only 35 percent of blacks passed.

Beyond reworking the test itself, the racial and ethnic disparities reflected in the results and its possible consequences have legislators contemplating changes to the way the Teacher Licensure Exam process works. More from MPR:

Proposed changes at the state Legislature include carving out exceptions to the test requirement for non-native English speakers who teach in language immersion programs. They would have three years to pass the test, the way the old law allowed [prospective teachers no longer have a grace period to pass the test -- now they must pass it before they get their license]. An administrator from Minnetonka told lawmakers Tuesday that his district could lose 12 immersion teachers next year because they haven't passed the test.

This instantiation of the achievement gap is quite puzzling, considering prospective teachers who happen to be black presumably have earned college degrees equivalent to those earned by white prospective teachers. Unless, of course, the test really is easier for whites for some reason. If that's the case, it seems reworking the test to eradicate its bias should be a top priority for state education officials.

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