Iowa’s Board of Educational Examiners has refused to certify a native Chinese language speaker as a Chinese teacher because she couldn’t pass an American standardized test created by some people in New Jersey.
The would-be teacher is Jean Lin Hussey, a Mandarin Chinese speaker from Taiwan, reports The Des Moines Register. She lives in Kalona, a tiny town not too far from Iowa City.
The computerized test is the Praxis II, the only test Iowa’s state officials will use to evaluate Chinese language proficiency.
The Praxis series of tests is produced by the Educational Testing Service, a standardized test behemoth based in the suburban sprawl of New Jersey. The company also creates the questions for the SAT and other standardized tests. (RELATED: A Nostalgic Trip Down Memory Lane With The SAT)
Over a billion people — roughly 20 percent of the earth’s population — speak some form of Chinese. The written forms of Mandarin Chinese are different. For example, people in Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong write differently than people in Beijing.
Taiwan is an island off of mainland China that has been perpetually at odds with its neighbor (which dwarfs it) since roughly the end of World War II.
Hussey claims that the New Jersey-based company’s test discriminates against people like her from Taiwan.
Hussey and her husband note that Iowa and the rest of the country have great difficulty finding teachers who speak Mandarin Chinese fluently and that the federal government has long promoted the idea of young Americans learning Chinese and other globally-important languages.
This problem is particularly acute in rural areas, such as the one where the Husseys live.
“A single test should not be a deal breaker,” Hussey’s husband, who is also the local school board president, told the Register. “Think about this: She can already help kids with English, math, whatever. But she can’t teach something she knows much more.”
Na Pan, the president of the Iowa Chinese Language Teachers Association, also doesn’t understand the bizarre ruling.
“It is of great value and fortune for our students to learn a foreign language from a native speaker,” she wrote in a letter to Iowa education officials. “Mrs. Hussey had five years of teaching experience to young learners. This is a very valuable resource and person we should help.”
Duane Magee, who heads the state’s education examiners board, said he lamented the decision but felt his board had no choice. The Iowa resident suggested that he wants rural Iowans to learn only the most commonly-written Chinese phonetic system, according to the Register.
“I certainly understand from her perspective how she could feel like this was something done to her,” he told the paper. “The good news is there is an alternative pathway.”
That alternative pathway involves either retaking the New Jersey-based Praxis II, petitioning the state to change its rules or seeking a waiver in court.
Hussey obtained an education degree at an area university at taxpayer expense under a 2007 Bush administration initiative that facilitates teaching certifications for native (and non-native) speakers of critical languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian.
Right now, just 11 Iowa school districts have any kind of Mandarin program at all.