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Education

End of test requirement lifts hurdle for most, but not all, dual-language teachers

05062022-Teaching-Spanish
Kassidy Arena
/
IPR file photo
Rogelio Gomez teaches his fifth grade class about division. All of his teaching is in Spanish, and the students only answer in Spanish. Gomez was the first teacher hired in Pella Christian Grade School's Spanish Immersion Program.

Teachers who go through an Iowa college program no longer have to pass a professional exam in order to be licensed.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill last week (HF 2081) eliminating the Praxis requirement for those new teachers. It’s one of the steps taken by lawmakers to help fill an education workforce shortage.

The test put bilingual teaching candidates at a disadvantage since it is only offered in English. Many dual-language immersion programs across the state said it made recruiting teachers more difficult.

“I remember student teaching and being super nervous about having to take the Praxis and not knowing whether I was going to pass and to be able to be a teacher,” said Noelia Espinal, a teacher at the Muskie Early Learning Center in Muscatine.

The center in Muscatine is expanding to 25 students next year and classes will be taught in Spanish 80% of the time. Espinal hopes the new law makes it easier to find teachers for the program as it grows.

“We talk about as teachers doing what we can for our students, and — especially in these programs — giving assessments in both languages,” Espinal said. “I think it's just kind of ironic that (the Praxis text) wasn't in Spanish either.”

The Praxis test is not going away for everyone, however.

The new law drops the test requirement for teachers from Iowa programs but, according to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, administrative rules still require a passing score for teachers coming from other countries.

Rebecca Gomez leads the language-immersion program at Pella Christian, where nearly 200 students spend their entire day learning in Spanish. It will be open to students from Kindergarten to 11th grade next year.

Many of the teachers are native Spanish-speakers from outside the U.S., Gomez said, because it’s hard to find qualified candidates locally.

“We have hired one teacher who went through an Iowa teaching program in my 10 years here at Pella Christian,” Gomez said, adding that the school’s religious requirements also narrow the hiring pool. “We really need native speakers of Spanish and there just aren't a lot of native speakers of Spanish in Iowa who have gone through an Iowa teacher prep program.”

Gomez said taking, and often retaking, the Praxis can add months to the process of bringing in a new teacher on a visa. In some cases it drives qualified teachers away. Gomez said one candidate quit after three tries on the test.

“She was very well qualified, had a master's degree in education in her country, but got very discouraged by the language barrier of trying to pass this very professional test in English when she would never even have to use English in the classroom. We would, in fact, never want her to use English. We want her to just use Spanish in our Spanish-immersion classroom,” Gomez said.

Gomez said she’d like the legislature or Board of Educational Examiners to look at other ways teachers can qualify to be licensed without running up against a language barrier on their licensing test.