Democrats in the Iowa House today tried to stop a bill they say will lower standards for Iowa teachers.
Under the GOP-backed bill, graduates of Iowa teacher preparation programs would no longer be required to pass a standardized subject matter test to get a teaching license.
Backers say the change is needed to address a teacher shortage.
“I can give you many examples of superintendents and prospective teachers I have spoken with about this,” said Rep. Tom Moore (R-Griswold). “It's a barrier, a roadblock for the teacher and the administration that wants to hire them.”
Moore is a retired public school teacher. He debated the bill with another retired teacher, Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids).
“You’ve had students in your class who are excellent students and are not good test-takers,” Moore said.
“This is not a single test in a classroom,” Staed said. “This is to become an Iowa teacher and a quality person in our classroom.”
The bill would eliminate the requirement that prospective teachers take a nationally recognized exam known as Praxis II which is used in 40 states.
Ninety-six percent of graduates of Iowa teacher preparation program pass the test.
About 100 students per year fail the exam. In teacher shortage areas, over the past five years, 32 students failed the exam.
Democrats argued, sometimes angrily, that there are many reasons for Iowa’s teacher shortage the legislature should address.
“We could address teacher pay,” Staed said. “We could address bargaining rights, we could address class sizes and cuts to programs and classes occurring over the last seven years.”
Prospective teachers have been required to score in at least the 25th percentile to pass the test and can take the test as many times as needed.
“I would consider this to be a minimum requirement,” Staed said.
"Obviously we do not want to see a dumbing-down of the profession," said Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City).
The bill passed on a mostly party-line vote of 55 to 42. The required exam was part of a package of education reform measures recommended by Gov. Branstad and approved in 2013.
The bill is opposed by the Iowa Association of Schoolboards and the Iowa State Education Association. Two education groups, the Rural School Advocates of Iowa and the Urban Education Network, support the bill.