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Bridge Michigan
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Bridge reporting leads to tougher teacher testing

The bar to become a teacher in Michigan classrooms just got higher, with the state legislature kicking in money to toughen up teacher certification tests.

The Michigan Senate and House approved $1.8 million to revamp many of the state’s teacher certification tests - a process that was going to take 11 years without an infusion of cash.

Making the tests more rigorous is seen as one of the keys to improving teacher quality in Michigan schools, where standardized test scores are often in the bottom half of states.

Instrumental in obtaining funding to revise the tests was Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton.

“Our greatest assets are our teachers, and it’s only appropriate that they have the proper tools,” Rogers said. “Professional development has been lacking for quite some time.”

Taking 11 years to revamp the tests didn’t make sense to Rogers. “By the time they’re done, they’re going to have to start over again,” Rogers said. Getting the tests revised faster to assure that only the best teachers are in Michigan’s classrooms “was an excellent allocation of funds.”

The legislative action during final state budget negotiations this week is a direct response to Bridge Magazine reporting. Troubles with the state’s battery of teacher certification tests were raised by Bridge Magazine last fall in “Building a Better Teacher,” a series examining Michigan’s teacher preparation system. That series found that Michigan was failing its children by failing beginning teachers – from colleges allowing academically iffy students into education programs, to state certification tests that don’t weed out poorly prepared teacher candidates, to schools where nearly half of its educators quit in frustration within five years.

Bridge discovered that many of Michigan’s teacher certification tests were easy to pass – some had pass rates at or above 90 percent. Aspiring teachers had the same exam pass rate as those seeking a cosmetology license.

Last fall, when MDE beefed up the initial test all aspiring teachers must take before they are allowed to student teach, the pass rate plummeted from 82 percent on the previous exams to 26 percent.

Michigan Schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan hailed the results as proof that the state was serious about letting only the most qualified teachers into Michigan classrooms.

But there are more than five dozen certification tests for specific teaching subjects. Bridge reporting revealed that at existing funding levels, it would take 11 years to revise all the tests.

That changed today, when legislators, provided enough money to revise as many tests as the Michigan Department of Education said it could revise in one year; another $1.8 million would be needed next year to finish the job in two years instead of 11.

“MDE recently increased the rigor of the teacher certification tests as part of a plan to prepare more high-qualified teachers for our classrooms, so the additional funding will help us make further improvements to the tests,” said MDE spokesperson Bill DiSessa. “Bottom line: the increased funding … is a big win for Michigan kids.”

It’s also a big win for parents and engaged citizens statewide. The Center for Michigan’s 2013 report, “The Public’s Agenda for Public Education,” specifically called for “raising the bar entry” into the teaching field. That and other recommendations in the report were based on more than 250 statewide community meetings and two large statewide polls.

“It’s great to see the Legislature’s serious, thoughtful, and problem-solving response to Bridge Magazine reporting and the findings of our statewide public engagement campaigns,” said Center for Michigan President & CEO John Bebow. “Our mission is to bring citizen priorities to the attention of statewide leaders and work for positive change. That’s exactly what happened in this case.”

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