English-only test for teaching license hampers bilingual schools’ efforts to find teachers
Andriz Melenciano came to teach at the Pella language immersion school from the Dominican Republic. She taught in the Dominican Republic for about 11 years before moving to Iowa. She taught in Iowa for about four years.
She had a number of difficulties trying to obtain her teaching license in Iowa.
“First, the immigration process took me a long time because I come from a very small town where there was no internet,” Melenciano said in Spanish. “And the communication with Rebecca [Gomez]the program director here, was very difficult.
She also added that leaving her family, her students and her favorite foods were among those difficulties.
Melenciano said there was another step to teaching in Iowa that stood in the way of getting his Iowa teaching license.
Although she can speak English to some extent, she feels more comfortable in Spanish. She said the Praxis test was difficult for her.
“It was very difficult because you are confronted with the grammar, the phonetics, the phonology of the English language. And also with a lot of teaching and learning methods that you come to learn in the field,” she says in Spanish.
The Praxis is a relatively common test for teacher certification. It is also used in neighboring states like Nebraska and Kansas. Both of these states would accept a teacher applicant from outside the country, but there are still additional steps. The candidate would still need to pass the Kansas tests and possibly an English proficiency exam. This also applies to bilingual immersion educators.
There are other ways to obtain a teaching license in Iowa, but taking a Praxis test is the most common and applies to most applicants. The Iowa Department of Education explained that since immersion teachers teach the same subjects as monolingual teachers, they require the same tests.
Currently, a Praxis spokesperson said, the general test is only offered in English. Teachers studying to become world language educators are offered Praxis exams in the language they will be teaching. However, this test does not apply to bilingual immersion teachers who will be teaching all subjects in a different language.
Praxis test takers can request additional test time as part of Primary Language Not English (PLNE) accommodations, giving them 50% more test time. This rule does not apply to World Language Tests.
Bilingual test takers
Other bilingual elementary school programs across the state have also called the mandatory test a challenge. Brenda Arthur-Miller, bilingual principal of the West Liberty Community School District, said it can also be a barrier for bilingual people born and raised in the United States.
“A test like the Praxis, which is a standardized test written in fairly high level academic English, right? If you are someone who is bilingual, your academic level in both languages may not be as high as someone who only speaks one language,” Arthur-Miller said. “Now that doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to speak and be an intellectual. It’s just maybe, to different levels in each language.
The West Liberty Community School District has an option that other schools in Iowa do not have. The elementary, middle and high schools are all International Spanish Academies (ISA), meaning they have a partnership with the Spanish Ministry of Education.
It is a program that will send teachers into the state with temporary status to teach in the bilingual program. Since these teachers have special status, they do not need an Iowa teacher’s certificate. This means they don’t need to take a standardized test like the Praxis.
But this program is not an option for all bilingual immersion programs. According to the Iowa Department of Education, the West Liberty Community School District is the only ISA in the state.
Teachers through ISA are really meant to be in Iowa on temporary status, which can limit relationships with students. People like Gomez would prefer teachers with permanent status who can continue to engage with students even as they age.
“We want these teachers to stay because we’ve invested in their immigration process, we’ve invested in their professional development, and just the fact that I’m working with them to help them grow. We want them to stay here longer than this visa would allow,” she said.
She also said her school cannot be part of the program as it is structured now because she cannot ask about a candidate’s religion, which is part of her teaching model as a school. Christian.