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College and careers

An overhaul of the district’s career education programs seeks to make classes more challenging and put career-track students on the path to higher ed, but many schools have lost programs, and fewer students are participating overall.

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

The number of prospective teachers passing the basic skills test needed to get into education colleges has decreased dramatically, especially for Latino and black candidates, since an increase in passing scores was instituted in September. The sharp decline has set off alarms among some advocates and state lawmakers.

The number of prospective teachers passing the basic skills test needed to get into education colleges decreased dramatically, especially for Latino and black candidates, since an increase in passing scores was instituted in September. The sharp decline has set off alarms among some advocates and state lawmakers.

Overall, the number of candidates who passed the exam dropped from 85 percent in previous years to 22 percent in September. Three percent of black test takers passed, down from 56 percent, and 7 percent of Latinos, down from 68 percent. 

State officials say that the October rates were better, with about 45 percent of test-takers passing, perhaps due to people re-taking the portions of the test that they failed.

“It's going to have a devastating disparate racial impact,” says State Representative Paul Froehlich (D-Schaumburg), who is retiring this year. Froehlich and others are worried that  if black and Latino teachers can’t get into schools of education, the ultimate result will be fewer teachers of color. “That is something none of us wants,” he says.

When these results were presented at a Tuesday hearing of the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education, members panicked, Froehlich says. Representatives from ENLACE, Action Now, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and Grow Your Own Teachers attended the hearing in Springfield. So did Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Froehlich says the committee knew that the Illinois State Board of Education had approved a cut score increase, but were not aware of how dramatic it was. To pass, students must now get 75 percent correct in math, up from 35 percent, and 85 percent in reading and language arts, up from 50 percent. The fourth area, writing, is rated on a 12-point scale and now candidates must get an eight, up from a five.

Froehlich says it might have been better to make incremental increases. 

Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, says that the increase in cut scores was approved last December and only went into effect in September. Also, in February of last year, ISBE decided to cap the number of times that candidates e can take the test at five. In the past, it was unlimited. 

State officials knew there would be a decrease in those passing the test, but, to mitigate it, they have been working with schools of education and community colleges to make sure students are ready for the test, Fergus says. She adds that students now only have to retake the portion of the test that hey failed, rather than the entire test.

The impetus behind increasing the cut score was to make sure that teachers are better prepared for teaching, especially as the move is underway to make classrooms more rigorous. 

“It is important to have strong standards,” Fergus says. 

But some question whether there’s any correlation between being able to pass the basic skills test and the ability to be a good teacher. Karen Lewis was on the Illinois State Board’s certification committee last year when the change was made.

At the time, Lewis didn’t think the increase in cut scores would be devastating. When she took the test, she found it easy and she thought candidates would adapt, she says.

What she didn’t know is that, in 2001, the rigor of the basic skills test was increased from an 8th-grade level to an 11th-grade level. 

Lewis says it doesn’t much matter if a 2nd-grade reading teacher can do 11th-grade math. “It doesn’t stop you from being an effective teacher,” she says.

Lewis is particularly worried about the racial implications of the decline in pass rates. “Teaching cannot be a white, upper-middle-class profession,” she says.

 Juliana Paz, Grow Your Own Coordinator at ENLACE Chicago, says ENLACE is looking into the possibility of advocating for other ways of evaluating pre-service teachers – for instance, the Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium which evaluates the quality of lessons given by student teachers. 

“All teachers should have... basic foundations of math and reading, but what’s getting tested in the basic skills test – pre-calculus – is not something that a second-grade teacher or a kindergarten teacher is going to need,” Paz says.

66 comments

math teacher wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I'm sorry but as a math teacher, I really believe a 2nd grade teacher SHOULD know how to do 11th grade math. How did you graduate high school WITHOUT being somewhat proficient in your Junior year math class? What about senior year?! I am sorry, but having an 8th grade math level is lowering the bar on math to the point where you can trip and fall over it, and that is simply unacceptable.

Clearly neither Lewis nor Paz has ever taught math and had to remediate issues that were caused by previous teachers. They have never had to deal with students who couldn't identify that .75 and 3/4 are the same value, or that 0.09 is bigger than 0.089. I do not see one or two students with this type of confusion, I see droves of high school students who are completely lacking any form of number sense. This deficiency has to be coming from somewhere, and the only logical conclusion is that students are not receiving quality math instruction at the lower levels.

I am currently teaching students how to graph linear equations. One method is to use the slope and y-intercept to create a quick, efficient graph after students are familiar of basic concepts. However, it is very hard to teach students to be comfortable with improper fractions to utilize slope-intercept form at its fullest. Somewhere along the line, many 9th graders are taught to never leave an answer as an improper fraction and this is an ongoing battle. Yet, these same children are unable to recognize fractions in reduced from (3/4 and 12/16). So what is happening here? Simple: lower level math teachers are unaware of what is *required* at the higher levels and are unable to prepare students for it.

Don't misunderstand me, I have family who are elementary and middle school teachers and they undoubtedly do the best that they can. They adore their students and work very hard with them. However, let's be honest -- no one would ever accept an elementary school teacher who can only read at the 8th grade level. Parents, teachers, schools, and the community would be outraged at the idea of a 2nd grade teacher only needing to be able to do 2nd grade level reading.

Our country is falling behind in math and science every year that we fail to adequately prepare students for jobs in engineering, technology, and scientific fields. We need our students to be taught by people who are proficient at the high school level, for ALL subjects.

John Dean wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Let's see if I have this straight. Bright students shun a college program that is the gateway to a challenging occupation that offers low pay, low status and low job security leaving the field to be filled by a pool of candidates that cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Sound like Chicago style school reform to me.

Proud teacher wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I have to entirely disagree with the math teacher. The question is not "how did one graduate without being somewhat proficient in 11th grade math?" It's "how did one graduate without learning to pass a test on what is taught in 11th grade math at a high performing high school?"

I think the answer is obvious and begs the much more important question, "Why does it matter?" I completed my math program by my Junior year of high school at 14. I had completed all of the math credits I needed to graduate college through Advanced Calculus.

It did not make me a strong teacher. What made me a strong teacher was listening to the experienced mentors I had who understood what skills were required to reach the most challenging students.

The best teacher to teach a student to push through the rough environment and succeed is one who has done it themselves and will be there consistently for their students.

This change ensures that those students will be condemned to more teacher turnover and less empathetic support.

It's less about race and more about class. I don't want a teaching profession that's entirely populated by the affluent.

To Proud Teacher wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

What you've written is fine and dandy, but the fact remains that having an understanding and mastery of high school level curriculum is basic knowledge to receive a diploma and should continue to be basic knowledge for a teacher to retain.

Basic Skills = Waste of Time & Money wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Knowledge of content and curriculum is incredibly important, but that is not what the basic skills test asserts to measure - that is what the content specific tests assert to measure.

I'm teaching as a 2nd career and I have no idea why I had to take a basic skills test. Content test? Sure, that's obvious enough. But the basic skills (and that other crap test, I forget what it's called) was totally irrelevant to anything that I do in class on a daily basis. So, I have three questions.

(1) What exactly is the basic skills test designed to measure? (And please, don't tell me it is designed to measure basic skills.)
(2) How effectively does it measure what it tries to measure? And,
(3) Why or how are those things it measures important to professional teaching?

And someone please tell me again why we take a test to measure 11th grade basic skills when a bachelor's degree is required for certification. I sure as heck don't need to know calculus to teach English or history or a foreign language or biology or P.E. or any of the arts or info tech or wood shop or damn near anything else...

Good test taker wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I am a great test taker, so they let me into Harvard University. I could not teach 2nd grade if my life depended on it. I don't have the patience, the ability to build motivating relationships of trust with the students and their families, and I don't know a thing about diagnosing problems with learning addition, reading, and then multiple ways of teaching it until the students get it. I also don't know what to do with the children who are assigned to my class who are learning or behavior disabled. I am in awe of teachers who can manage classes of way too many students and who are able to focus on getting every one of them to learn. But I am a great test taker.

So, what is the relationship of scoring in the top 22% of test takers (that is what the passers on the so-called Basic Skills Test did) and effective teaching (moving the student achievement gains forward in the classroom)? Would someone please tell us? Because without evidence for raising the score on the test, education bureaucrats are just expressing their prejudices and assumptions in public policy, which is a pretty dangerous thing to do. Especially when it almost eliminates teachers of color from the profession. They better have a good reason, and guessing that high scorers are better teachers is not a good reason.

Vouchers For All wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

My local school district has complained for years that we need to raise teacher salaries in order to get the "best and brightest." In a downstate community with a median salary of $39k, the average teacher earns $65k and the highest paid teachers receive over six figures, THEY WANT MORE for passing an 8th-grade level test? By all means make the test tougher. It is about time that we hold teachers to a higher standard than we hold students.

Read the research... wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

"Only two of the forms of teacher training we study influence productivity. First, content-focused teacher professional development is positively associated with productivity in middle and high school math. Second, more experienced teachers appear more effective in teaching elementary math and reading and middle school math. There is no evidence that...the scholastic aptitude of teachers influences their ability to increase student achievement."
Harris, D.N. & Sass, T.R. (2007, March) Teacher training, teacher quality, and student achievement. (Working Paper 3). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute/CALDER.

"We discovered that test scores have been less related to teaching performance than students' success levels in the pre-service programs the tests were designed to hold accountable."
D'Agostino, J.V. & Powers, S.J., (2009, March). Predicting teacher performance with test scores and grade point average: A meta-analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 46(1).

Vouchers For All wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

My local school district has complained for years that we need to raise teacher salaries in order to get the "best and brightest." In a downstate community with a median salary of $39k, the average teacher earns $65k and the highest paid teachers receive over six figures, THEY WANT MORE for passing an 8th-grade level test? By all means make the test tougher. It is about time that we hold teachers to a higher standard than we hold students.

Paz wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Math Teacher, I have in fact taught math to 4th graders for 3 years. I was completely shocked when I first student-taught in 5th grade and realized that the 5th graders did not know their basic multiplication facts or division or who didn't even know how to use a ruler. I do agree that we need to build a strong foundation in math in the earlier grades but passing the basic skills test had nothing to do with how or what I taught my students and it has nothing to do with what primary grade level teachers are teaching their students.

The mayority of my students didn't come to 4th grade with the basic math skills and number sense they needed to perform well in my class, yet I still had to follow what the district demanded. In order to try and bring the students up to speed I created math games that would help build the basic foundations, for students with specific needs I created these games, met with their parents and told them how to use the games at home to help their child built this basic knowledge. I spent Saturday mornings in the local public library so that students who needed additional help (in math or reading) could go with their parents and then I would work with students and parents. Still with my extra efforts I was only able to help those few that took advantage of it. I tried nonetheless, I worked hard and basic skills had nothing to do with what I did as a teacher. We have to remember that there are multiple factors affecting a child's education it doesn't all fall on the teachers' shoulders and there are some great teachers out there putting more than 100% of time and effort. It's easy for the high school teachers to blame the middle school teachers and the middle school teachers to blame the primary school teachers instead of really looking into how we can work together to solve the problem of so any students lacking the basic foundations. But only those committed, hard working passionate teachers will be willing to do this and the basic skills test is stopping some of these people from even entering the college of education!

Yes, I passed the basic skills on my first try, I did good in the the math section because I always enjoyed math and was a good student in elementary, high school and college but whatever score I received on basic skills was irrelevant to any my teaching experience. I went in one day, sat down, spent 4 hours taking this exam and that's all I remembered about that test.

good test taker wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

By the way, the old Basic Skills Test from the 80's and 90's was pegged to an 8th grade level. The most recent test was pegged to an 11th/12th grade level, and it has been in effect since 2001. Now the education bureaucrats have decided, as of Sept. 11, 2010, to double the passing score on the 11th/12th grade level test. If you think that is a good idea, I dare you to take the test: you can apply to take it on the Illinois State Board of Education website. I think the bureaucrats who came up with this plan out of thin air should take the test themselves. Why shouldn't you have to take a "Basic Skills" test to sit on the State Board of Education or to work there?

Make decisions based on research, not assumptions wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Thanks, "Read the Research..." for posting that useful information! It looks to me like ISBE made this decision based on assumptions, not research.

Rod Estvan wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

It seems to me that the discussion so far on the Basic Skills Test Illinois Certification Testing System (ICTS) results for minorities in particular avoid a discussion on the scoring changes that ISBE made. Before the changes were made, i.e. the scoring of the 096 Basic Skills Test, test takers had to get an overall scaled score of 240 out of a possible score of 300 but the prospective teacher did not have to get a 240 scaled score in each of the four areas of Reading Comprehension, Language Arts, Mathematics, and Writing. Before the changes each subarea had minimum allowable scores, One subarea "math" was as low as 35% correct answers for that minimum score as discussed in the Catalyst article. This system allowed individuals with weaker and stronger areas to still pass the test.

New scoring on the 300 Basic Skills Test requires the same scaled score of 240 in each subarea in order to pass, Effectively individuals with weaker skills in one area can no longer pass by compensating in other areas. How well rounded does a teacher candidate need to be? I also would like to see some further analysis of the failure rate, for example were most candidates failing in one subarea more than others.

Many of us in the past who took the Basic Skills test found it to be ridiculously easy, for example I was shocked to find out that I only got about two math questions wrong when I took the test years ago because I did not think I was all that strong in math. The new standards would seem to be reasonable in the perfect world where the K-12 education sector draws candidates to become teachers from a high quality pool, but that is not the world we live in.

It seems to me that if only 22% of the candidates taking the test could pass it and go on to eventually become teachers that there is something very wrong with the ICTS. When only 3% of all black candidates that took the test could pass it says something very powerful, that the academic quality of African Americans being currently drawn into education regardless of the scoring system. The Catalyst article also did not mention that overall only 50% of the white candidates passed the test from what I have heard.

I think there are empirical reasons for this, African Americans with higher academic skills over the last two decades have had the opportunity for careers that pay far more than k-12 teaching does and no longer are drawn towards this career as one of the only paths available to become a professional. Historically highly academically skilled African Americans were denied access to private sector jobs due to color barriers and many of these barriers have declined over the years. White's with higher academic skills like blacks and Hispanics are too drawn to higher paying professions.

While everyone loves to cry about higher standards for teachers, the market system for labor in America is signaling that the education sector gets the candidates it pays for. I think ISBE in its endless search for Race to the Top money has currently created an unworkable standard for the Basic Skills test. While with time the pass rate will likely rise, because candidates will realize that they may need to take a prep class for the Basic Skills test and more will pass. But the improvement in the pass rate will be driven not by the candidates having higher skills but by test prep.

Rod Estvan

Are You Serious wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

The same educators on here who are saying that the test don't matter are the same educators who spend endless hours talking about students who do not want to learn. If the efforts that other teachers put into you weren't worth anything, then why are you now claiming to want to be a teacher?

If fewer minorities are passing, that says that they aren't being well-educated - there are too many teachers who DON"T KNOW what they are teaching. I AM a minority, and I scored very well on my exams and have done so throughout my life - as a high school teacher, I can help students with other subjects than the one I teach. I resent the implication that the only people who can do well on these exams are either white or rich - how about people who are well educated OR is that a matter of contempt nowadays?

I agree with the math teacher, and I teach English - I spend a lot of time trying to re-teach what I would consider to be basic knowledge Teachers who spend endless years teaching parts of speech instead of writing or if they attempt it only teach the 5 paragraph model; who can't help students get through any texts because they haven't read them and don't regularly read,and who waste the students' time and MY time by giving them endless reams of worksheets instead of preparing them for college.

Re: Read the Research wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Read the research make sure not to interpret studies through the use of one quotation. Please see the author written abstract below, which states that test scores have MODERATE relationship to teaching performance and tests PROTECT the public from incompetent teachers.

A meta-analysis was conducted to examine the degree to which teachers’ test scores and their performance in preparation programs as measured by their collegiate grade point average (GPA) predicted their teaching competence. Results from 123 studies that yielded 715 effect sizes were analyzed, and the mediating effects of test and GPA type, criterion type, teaching level, service level, and decade of data collection were considered. It was found that test scores were at best modestly related to teaching competence and that performance in preparation programs was a significantly better predictor of teaching skill. Results revealed that test scores likely do not provide additional information beyond preservice performance to safeguard the public from incompetent teaching.

http://aer.sagepub.com/content/46/1/146.abstract

Re:Re: Read the Research wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Dear Re: Read the Research--

I looked into the article you posted, and this study focuses on the Praxis--which is the test that personally, I think ISBE should switch to. The ICTS Basic Skills is the only of it's kind and ridiculously tricky, and is not included in this meta-analysis. I've taken the BS three times (and passed every time) in order to get to know the test to help students pass better. This test is weird and tests "test-taking" abilities, not skills. The Praxis, which is nationally recognized, makes much more sense.

If we are going to standardize, let's standardize--please adopt the Praxis I test.

parent45 wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Professionals?

I sort of agree with Lewis's comment. "teaching cannot be a white, upper-middle-class profession.†It should not be a white profession. It should be diverse.

But do we really want it to be a dumbed-down profession? I talk to teachers all the time who are upset that they don't get the same respect as lawyers and doctors and other professionals. Making it a field that anyone can enter, regardless of skills, isn't going to help.

LibbyBooker wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

This is where the rubber hits the road. . . when the emphasis on getting the "best and the brightest" in the teaching profession conflicts with arbitrarily-assigned benefits of diversity. Let the standards stand as-is. Supply and demand will result in fewer available teachers and larger salaries, plus the excellence the ed experts tout.

JT wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I took the basic skills exam in 2005, passed the first time and found nothing "basic" about it. Mind you, I was returning to the education field to get my M.Ed at 50 yrs of age and I did take a prep course to prepare. (Had to say the age because I get the feeling that most of those saying it was "easy" may be recent graduates)

My field is early childhood education and NONE of what was on the basic skills exam has ever come in handy when changing a diaper or teaching colors to 3, 4, and 5 yr olds. However, I too, had to pass this exam in order to teach preschool.

English Ed Prof wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

The increase in the pass score was not based on "assumptions," nor was it based on "research." It was based on the need to "toughen up" to apply for Race to the Top money -- which didn't work anyway. (Is it ironic that I have to answer a basic, BASIC, math question to post this comment???)

Cheryl wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I had to take the basic skills test to get into my credential program. After years of working in a non-teaching professional year and after completing a bachelor's degree, I thought the test was ridiculous--as in incredibly simple. It's frightening that ANYONE could get out of high school, much less college, without being able to to pass these tests. I'm now an elementary teacher. In my state (CA), we have to be able to teach ANY grade, K-6, and could be moved at any time. No one who can't pass a basic skills test has any business whatsoever teaching at any level. Perhaps this kind of silliness explains why many of my own son's teachers are constantly incorrectly correcting his grammar in his writing.

Inquiring Minds... wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Can someone tell me...
why does the state require a test at the 11th grade level for a career that requires a bachelor's degree?

Danny wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

Re: Inquiring minds

Can someone tell me...

how persons who cannot pass a basic skills test at the 11th grade level manage to earn a bachelor's degree?

Perhaps the state should identify the universities that granted a degree to such persons.

iteach2 wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I agree with Danny - how did anyone who did not pass an 11th grade level test get a bachelors degree? Also, if you can't pass a basic skills test, how can you be considered professional. All this complaining about why we need to know 11th grade math is why we are constantly dumped on - it's not professional, it shows teachers just don't know anything more than someone off the street and it certainly doesn't say that we love learning. What do we say to students who say "why do we need to know this?" - well, maybe they need to know it to show they are educated and maybe they will need to know it to pass a basic skills test.

to you both--the test will wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

eventually be 'relaxed.' Affirmative action y'all. Already has been for bilingual--as long as you speak Spanish, you do not have to be able to be understood in English.

maria Ortiz Martinez wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I agree that a 2nd grade teacher does have to do 11th grade math.
My daughter was a 1st and 2nd grade teacher. She was a great teacher . She had 6 yrs. to finish her math courses , she tried many times and did not succeed. Mostly it was due to her learning diability plus her nerves. She gets nervous and she get a mental block.
She is now a teacher asst. Ther should be classes for people like my daughter. Believe me. She would be a ral plus to the kids and the school.
maria Ortiz Bayamon Puerto Rico

Anne wrote 3 years 18 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I graduated from high school and college. However, I am 50 years old and have not done this math and intense testing in many, many, years. I substitute teach and unfortunately I will need to look for work other than teaching. Which my test scores were close to passing, I still didn't pass and guess that even thought I love teaching, will not be able to pursue a teaching career. Very upset.

Anne wrote 3 years 18 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I graduated from high school and college. However, I am 50 years old and have not done this math and intense testing in many, many, years. I substitute teach and unfortunately I will need to look for work other than teaching. Which my test scores were close to passing, I still didn't pass and guess that even thought I love teaching, will not be able to pursue a teaching career. Very upset.

Oh Well wrote 3 years 18 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

According to Danny, you do not deserve to teach. I think that's wrong. I also think someone with a learning disability has a right to teach, but according to these folks the only people who should teach are white, upper middle class people. I think that will be sad for all the kids of need role models. Oh well....

Pat wrote 3 years 18 weeks ago

Fewer teacher candidates pass basic skills test

I am 40 years old and love to work with kids. I just finished the Basic Skills test and failed. I have just finished 2 years of college with a 3.72 GPA. I think the problem for me was the 20 years out from High School. I guess I am changing my degree choice now because I am not smart enough to be a teacher within the grade schools. I will also have to give up my job woking within the youth program that I love so much.

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