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From a snug nine-seat classroom at Andover High School, teacher Amna Kiran gets to know her English-language students so well that she helps them navigate subjects from math and science to the written driver's permit test.

"It's not a job for me. It's a passion; it's something I love to do," she said of teaching English to about 38 students a year whose native languages include Arabic, Oromo, Ukrainian and Spanish.

Her level of devotion, attention and persistence is about to change Minnesota law — with bipartisan support. Because of Kiran's efforts, the driver's permit tests next year will likely be written in clear, direct English.

Both the House and Senate have already passed a bill that began with Kiran. If the House concurs with minor changes made by the Senate, the bill will head to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature.

The origins of the bill date to 2019 when Kiran, who has three master's degrees, saw a well-prepared student repeatedly fail the written test. The teacher, who speaks multiple languages and emigrated from Pakistan in 2007, started doing her own research. She learned that native English speakers also found the text perplexing.

"I don't want to make the test easy but it should be understandable," she said.

She wrote letters to the state Driver and Vehicle Services, but didn't get anywhere. In March 2023, she brought a bound version of her research and some 1,500 signatures on a petition to a constituent coffee session with Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin.

Her pitch: "A valid test is supposed to test what it needs to assess," she said.

Hoffman got it. He took the research and showed it to Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul, who understood immediately as her mother, a native of Senegal, learned English as an adult. Oumou Verbeten sponsored the bill along with Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee.

Kiran drafted the first version of the bill, adhering to Federal Plain Language Guidelines, adopted in 2010 for federal agencies. Minnesota adopted a similar standard in 2014 with an executive order signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. The order requires state agencies to use "language commonly understood by the public."

Andover High School teacher teacher Amna Kiran led the push to change Minnesota law to require driver’s permit tests to be written in clear, direct English.
Andover High School teacher teacher Amna Kiran led the push to change Minnesota law to require driver’s permit tests to be written in clear, direct English.

Rochelle Olson

The bill requires the state Public Safety commissioner to develop a new test by Feb. 1, 2025, using "clear, simplified language." Grammatical standards include addressing the test-taker directly as "you," using the active voice and omitting excess words.

Many of the requirements are strong advice for all writing: use familiar words, minimize the use of abbreviations and keep the subject, verb and object close together.

The bill advises avoiding either/or and neither/nor, omitting double negatives and terms like "except for" and "unless."

Kiran provided multiple examples from the old test that don't fit the new standards.

Question 1: "Backing up is not allowed on freeways or expressways except for:"

The problem: A double negative.

Suggested alternative: "Backing up on freeways is allowed only for:"

Question 2: "Anyone who flees a police officer using a motor vehicle may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than"

The problem: Complex phrasing and sentence structure with potentially unfamiliar words.

Suggested alternative: "Anyone who runs away from a police officer using a motor vehicle may be sent to jail or prison for a maximum of"

Question 3: "On urban or town roads, the legal speed limit under ideal driving conditions is ____ unless traffic signs indicate otherwise:"

The problem: Complex phrasing and sentence structure.

Suggested alternative: "When the speed limit is not posted on city or town roads, the legal speed limit is:"

A committee from the Department of Public Safety will be responsible for monitoring and reviewing the new test. By Feb. 1, 2026, the Public Safety commissioner must submit a report to the Legislature on test implementation, expenditures and feedback.

The cost is a one-time payment of $212,000. Oumou Verbeten said the amount will cover the cost of translating the new test into other languages.

Oumou Verbeten is hopeful the effort spreads. "In general, this place could use more adopting of plain language standards," she said. "I'm excited to see what this spurs next for us."

As colleagues congratulated her in the high school hallways last week, Kiran acknowledged she was impressed by her successful advocacy. "I did not know that a layman could have that much say," she said. "It's seriously great."