Gov. Pillen removes testing requirements for Nebraska teachers

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Nebraska’s governor on Tuesday repealed a regulation that required prospective teachers to pay for and pass an exam before getting their certification.

Gov. Jim Pillen said removing the requirement will get more Nebraskans certified to teach and help address the teacher shortage.

“I’ve asked this question for five, six years now, and it’s maybe one for all of us to think about,” he said. “Who are the three people that have had an incredible impact on your life? And I’ll bet the farm that one of the three is either a teacher or a coach.”

The Nebraska State Education Association said that it has long advocated for this change and that the Praxis test only served to block people from becoming teachers, especially since it costs $150 to take the entire thing.

President Jenni Benson said the courses that prospective teachers take in college and their experience student teaching are enough to certify them as a good teacher.

“If I’m doing well and doing my practicums and my student teaching and doing all of those things, that is what’s important, not whether or not you can pass a standardized test,” she said.

To pass the Praxis, an applicant must meet four scoring requirements:

  • 156 or above in reading
  • 150 or above in mathematics
  • 162 or above in writing
  • A composite score of 468 or above, with no portion being more than one point below the minimum scores specified above

The entire composite test costs $150, and taking or retaking any specific section of the test costs $90.

Those costs don’t include expenses for tutors or preparation materials or certification fees.

The NSEA says that from 2014 to 2018, nearly 800 students got high enough composite scores but failed one or more of the sections and couldn’t be certified.

They say 20% of those students are members of one or more minority groups, people who are in high demand and short supply across the state.

Benson said the test also includes more advanced material than what many teachers would need to teach their classes.

For example, the math section would require all teachers to know things like trigonometry or calculus, even if they’re teaching elementary school kids.

“So if you’re taking a math exam and you’re going to be teaching 3- and 5-year-olds, to not allow you to be an educator because you’re going to teach preschool and you can’t pass the math section, that’s ludicrous,” Benson said.

The change will go into effect in five days, which the Department of Education is important since it leaves plenty of time before the fall semester.

Nebraska is joining the 33 other states that have removed competency tests to address the teacher shortage.

But Pillen’s action could be undone by any future governor, so Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha is working on a bill this session that would make it more permanent.

“I’m a former teacher, my wife was a former teacher, and we really learned our practice by our four years of undergrad, our graduate school, our practicum, all the coursework we did,” he said. “A test isn’t a determination of whether or not we were a good teacher.”

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