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For the Record: Teacher basic skills test

Despite plummeting pass rates, the Illinois State Board of Education recently held the line on the rigorous cut-off scores on the basic skills test for prospective teachers. The scores were raised back in September 2010, causing many to fail, especially minority candidates. 

Earlier this year, ISBE updated the test, which is now longer and aligned with the Common Core Standards that the state has adopted as new, tougher learning goals for K-12 education.  

The latest test results show that African American and Latino students are still having a harder time passing the exam, which candidates must pass to enroll in a college of education. In the round of testing from April, 28 percent of black students and 33 percent of Latinos passed the reading subtest. For whites and Asians, the pass rates were 52 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

The results were similar for the tests in language arts and mathematics. In writing, though the overall pass rates were higher, the racial gap remains: 62 percent of black students, 84 percent of Latinos, 93 percent of white students and 100 percent of Asians passed the writing portion of the test.

ISBE said its goal in raising the bar for the test—which it says is at an 11th-grade level—was to ensure that candidates are better prepared for the classroom and able to teach more rigorous content. But the racial disparity has raised a red flag for educators and others, including some state lawmakers, who want to bring more teachers of color into the profession.

The cut-off scores are now 85 percent in both reading and language arts, up from 50 percent, and 75 percent in math, up from 35 percent. In writing, which is rated on a 12-point scale, candidates must get 8 points, up from 5. Candidates can re-take the portions of the exam that they failed up to five times; previously, students could re-take the test an unlimited number of times.

Overall, the number of students to pass the test since the new standards were put in place now stands at 41 percent.

Illinois isn’t the only state to deal with this issue. Across the nation, states are re-examining the cut-off scores on basic-skills tests and licensing exams. The question is how states will raise the bar without affecting minorities wanting to enter the teaching profession. 


Anonymous wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago

If a person cannot pass an

If a person cannot pass an 11th grade level test in a given subject then they should not be allowed to teach. I've had my fair share of awful CPS teachers and I still cannot believe they were even hired. More jobs for the more educated then. I don't want my children being taught by someone who cannot do basic reading, spelling, writing and math!!!!

xian wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago

Basic Skills

The BS Test is across multiple subjects. There are plenty of brilliant people who cannot pass an 11th grade test in EVERY subject.

These gatekeeper tests have actually shown an inverse correlation to long-term student achievement.

By promoting them, ISBE is actually damaging the achievement of students in our state.

northside wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago

dont knock it....

I think you cant knock it until you take it. I passed it, but it was a test of endurance more than anything. I love people who claim to be "the smart one". However, let them take the test, then we shall see who judges!!

I'd like to see "anonymos Rahm, Obama, Brizzard, and State Sentate take the test!! See their results!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago

Give it a Try!

"Last year, Orange County school board member Rick Roach took the 10th-grade level FCAT and failed the mathematics portion while getting a 62 percent on the reading portion.

'I have two master's degrees,' said Roach. 'I teach 19 graduate courses in four colleges, and that had me as a poor reader.'"

Anonymous wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago

The basic skills test was not

The basic skills test was not very difficult and I am not that good in Math. It isn't even comparable to the SAT. If a college graduate cannot pass it then there is something seriously flawed in our educational system. We shouldn't be "dumbing down" education but apparently that is happening if college graduates cannot pass this test.

It be embarasing dat peoples cant pass dis tes.

xian wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago

What year did you take it?

It was entirely reworked to make it much harder a number of years ago.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago


This isnt the sat. Like i said if you took you have a right to talk. If you didnt take it. How do you know if its easy or hard

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

easy peasy

The basic skills test was long but not at all hard. If you cannot pass this test, than go back to school. There are lots of on line practice tests and practice books available. If minorities cannot pass, than look at their secondary education not dumb down the test. I took the test within the past 3 years. I am 60 and have not been in school for over 30 years. I took this test as part of the process to renew my teaching certificate. There are questions that contain common knowledge, refrences to contemporary and classical reading as well as geography and history. The science and math were not hard at all. I have'nt had a math class since my freshman year at college. Our secondary schools are so focused on the fundamentals they forget what constitutes "basic" skills. Bravo for making the test harder. Maybe we will actually get some "educated" teachers.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

The other link in this

The other link in this article states that many minorities will not pass the test because of the higher passing score . Well, too bad then. I went to CPS and had some of the worst teachers imaginable. I would be surprised if they could do 5th grade Math. Sadly, they were all minority teachers. I wish I wasn't biased. But, I don't want my kids being taught by the types of teachers I had. They could barely speak proper English.

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

implications of failure rate

The implications of this continuing failure rate on the basic skills test were not really commented on by Nicole Koettig. Part of the reform relating the basic skills test, now called the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP), was that education students have to pass this test prior to being admitted to a college of education. Last year would-be teacher students at the state's two largest producers of educators scored low: 31 percent of 784 Illinois State University students passed, as did 35 percent of 520 Northern Illinois University students.

What this means effectively are layoffs at Illinois schools of education. ISBE now allows students with an ACT composite score of 22 or better to be waived through the TAP.

Some CPS graduates are steered towards Historically Black Colleges by their teachers and counselors because of lower ACT scores and there are over 100 HBCUs in the United States. Some HBCU's have relatively high admissions standards, but most do not. Alabama A & M University for example is admitting freshmen with an average ACT score of only 17, Alabama State University has an even lower average ACT admissions score of 16, Shaw University in Raleigh N.C. average is only 15. Right now most of these graduates stand a limited chance of getting certified regardless of how hard they worked to get through college.

I expect ISBE will effectively lower its standards once a teacher shortage becomes a reality, but for right now given the layoffs in K-12 education that is not a problem. But by then some Illinois Colleges of education will have closed down and we will have to get our teachers from out of state where teachers colleges are still admitting students .

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Do not lower standards!!!

I'm a minority and I had no problem passing this test. The great majority of teaching students I met couldn't pass the math portion of the test, which wasn't that hard. Now, as a math teacher, I see many elementary teachers who don’t feel confident in math and as a middle school math teacher I can see the results of that: students being years behind in math.

I know that we need more minorities to enter the teaching profession but lowering standards will not solve this problem, it will make it worse. Instead, let’s offer remedial classes that will fully prepare these future teachers.

MBA wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Job security!

A more rigorous test means less teachers competing for jobs. For those in the system, there is an obvious benefit. One more thing, many colleges offer a Basic Skills Test review. You can also purchase a book or software to review. But there is one thing that a test taker needs for either of these methods to work: EFFORT!

xian barrett wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

But they don't tie to student achievement

Again, it's fun to score high and feel smart, but it doesn't help kids.

Test smart teacher =/= kids learning.

I want policies that help kids learn, not "raise the bar".

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

If you can't pass a test goes

If you can't pass a test goes up to the 11th grade, what on earth are you doing in *college*? It's not like the entire test is written for an 11th grader. The math section is not exclusively 11th grade material -- some of the material is basic middle school math.

I am not okay with my children having teachers who lack basic high school level knowledge.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

The people complaining are

The people complaining are the people who couldn't pass. It is true that a test does not determine how well you teach. I have had some highly intelligent teachers who had no social skills and lacked the ability to teach to a class.
Some students test very high, beyond 11th grade. If a student needs to be challenged it is not going to happen if that teacher cannot do 11th grade math or beyond.
Aside from the basic skills test, let me say that the Chicago Public School system is pathetic. The ignorance of many administrators, its Principals, and staff amazes me. I honor those staff that care and make a difference, but CPS prefers nepotism.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago


The data says this doesn't help kids. Plenty of the critics' scores are fine, we just don't like bad policy, and junk science. I received a solid score on the SAT before I turned 10. I was not ready to teach a classroom.

For the scenario quoted above, the teacher would need to pass that math on the subject specific test. There is no reason they need to be college level in every subject in order to teach all subjects. I would wager many of the policy makers and ed reformers would not pass all subjects. There are plenty of way to fail a test that have nothing to do with one's teaching ability.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago


The test is called BASIC skills. The questions are mostly general knowledge. The math is very very basic. Do you know what a decimal is? How to add fraction ect... The other topics are geared around reading comprehension. Simple as that. If you can't read how you gonna teach? I have observed student teachers who could not write a complete sentence on the board. Their vocabulary is filled with "you know" and "ummm" and incorrect verb noun usage. Mispronouncing simple words "aks" and ofTen" instead of ask and often (silent t please! ). No wonder our kids are failing with the new crop of "teacher" showing up. I say make the criteria harder for future teachers, not easier.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Seriously? Often with a t or

Seriously? Often with a t or often with a silent t? Really? This is one of the things on which you base your judgement of other people's teaching skills? How pathetic.

Various online dictionaries indicate either pronunciation is correct. I guess the real way to determine whether or not a teacher is qualified is for them to have the same background as you.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Yes, Pronunciation Matters ...Greatly!

The mispronunciation of the word 'often' is symptomatic of a general lack of knowledge as most educated people would not pronounce the 't' unless they hail from the British Isles where the 't' is pronounced. The person who included this in his/her response was trying to point out how the lack of basic language skills evidences itself in the mispronunciation of words, which is never acceptable by a teacher in a classroom.

Claire Falk wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Basic Skills Test

People who plan on going into teaching should be able to pass the Test of Basic Skills. We should be able to model for our students standard English, good spelling, and reading with comprehension. If we are unable to write, how are we going to teach writing our students? All of this is part of the new Common Core. It is also important to have a certain depth of knowledge in subject you are teaching.

There is no test that can determine who will be a good teacher and who will not. We have not taken any classes in grammar school or high school titled "How to Teach". It is something we have to learn on the job. But at least we know that those who pass the Basic Skills have a foundation on which to build their teaching skills.

Angela wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Value intellect

True that a smarter teacher does not necessarily mean that kids will learn more. I have had many brilliant professors who cannot teach worth a damn. However, setting a standard that has teachers being at minimum on par with the intelligence of their students is important. Students do not respect teachers that they feel are dim. As a bonus, candidates that have the intelligence to pass the test will most likely be quicker studies at learning teaching strategies, and better able to adapt to classroom situations.

Amee Adkins wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

update your report

There have been several changes to the basic skills requirement policy over the last several weeks, including a new cut score for the revised "Test of Academic Proficiency" and a provision to accept an ACT plus Writing composite score of 22 (SAT 1030). These are both welcome efforts to ensure an appropriately, but not unreasonably, high entrance standard for teacher education. It should be noted that with the original raised cut score for the Basic Skills Test, someone with an ACT of 24 (that's 75th percentile, meaning only 25 people out of 100 hundred scored better) had only a 50/50 chance to pass the test the first time. No argument that's a high standard, but there's no science to say that's the standard we need to have a highly effective teacher in the classroom.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Basic Skills are Important

Passing the basic skills test DOES matter! When my kids were in school I was often tempted to correct the grammar, usage, and spelling on the notes their teachers sent home, and send them back. I taught my kids how to write; they were not learning it in school. But kids whose parents don't have the skills that I have need to be taught by people who know what they are dong. Their teachers SHOULD have basic skills!

Teacher wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

The basic skills test is not

The basic skills test is not necessarily a measure of your effective teaching many of you have taken it and passed? The ACT rule wasnt adopted when I took the test (I scored a 24 by the way) and I failed the math portion while scoring high in Language Arts, Writing, and the way I was enrolled in the education program at Depaul to become an English teacher...I have never been that great at math. Bought a workbook, got tutored a little by my friend who was a business major and great at math..passed the math portion the 2nd time around. I agree that some assessment is necessary to ensure quality educators, however an arbitrary test such as this may not be the answer. I still suck at math but I love teaching Lanuage Arts by the way.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

A must for all elementary teachers

While I agree that some teachers who concentrate in one subject don't need to perform well on this test, it is imperative that elementary school teachers pass this test. Elementary school teachers teach all subjects and being proficient and confident in all subjects makes a world of a difference when it comes to teaching. Instead of spending time reviewing how to do the math when preparing a lesson, the time is spent planning strategies.

It is known that students' performance reflects the teacher's weakness. I constantly hear and see elementary teachers with lack of confidence in math and it shows in students’ scores.

Come On, Now wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

Reality Check

The student's performance reflects the student's performance. Time to give at least a second's worth of consideration to what students bring to the table. You don't hear our glorious Olympians who finish out of the medals blaming their coaches.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

american english

I am a speech teacher who cringes when I hear words spoken poorly. There are many ways to speak English. We are in America where words are pronounced and spelled as indicated for "American English" not British, Canadian or other English speaking regions. Often is always spoken with the silent t in American English. Use an on-line dictionary is like using wikapedia. Grow up and learn to speak properly.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

'Basic skills' BS should not have been one size fits all...

To maintain, as many here are trying to, that one "basic skills" test should bar everyone who wants to study education from Illinois colleges needs at least some thought. There are several areas to consider, including the history of discriminatory testing, the value of such tests as "one size fits all" approaches to setting a bar for prospective teachers, and the real history of Chicago's discrimination against teachers of color and other minorities.

To promote the idea that one test should screen prospective teachers whether those teachers are aiming to teach kindergarten and primary or upper high school "advanced" subjects is just one thing to think about. Many of the "brightest" people I knew could do "advanced" subjects (say, math to the level of calculus) and be disasters in most classrooms. I remember one guy who was brilliant at math and didn't notice when his students at Bowen began by dumping books out his third floor classroom window and then ended by dumping desks out the same way. When one of the administrators came to his room, he was busily working a major math proof on the blackboard and hadn't noticed. In another class, a student grabbed me in the hall and said, "Mr. Schmidt, please..." and invited me just to open the door to a classroom being "taught" by a high scoring FNG. I opened the door and almost got a contact high.

The "skills" needed to be effective teachers at various levels and for various communities can never be measured with one simplistic pencil and paper test. Never have and never will. I was a generally successful high school teacher, but would have been a miserable failure in the early grades with the little ones. I knew amazing shop teachers (often working on the old "vocational" certificates) who could listen to an auto engine and tell you what was wrong — and how to fix it — but not necessarily be able to read fluently the books written by others on the subjects.

And we're not even discussing the arts.

One final example, from my family.

I was a high scorer on tests (and got a scholarship and a degree from the University of Chicago to sort of prove it), but my brother was not. We learned much later in life that my brother's problem was dyslexia (which wasn't on anyone's agenda back in the 1950s).

If the ability to do a pencil and paper test were applied to prospective art teachers then and now, my brother would never have been able to do art or teach it. He is presently teaching at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and is a fairly well known artist who has made a career in art. Not by high scoring on tests, but by being able to do amazing art. (I once walked into an exhibit of his work and realized entering the room that he could see 100 "blues" when I was seeing, at best, four or five).

Let's forget the history stuff for now. If you want to learn more about my brother (and why it would have been a boon to Chicago kids to have had him as an art teacher, even though he never has left New York), look him up: Thomas Lanigan Schmidt.

This is just another tyrannical example of trying to reduce everything to a "bottom line" that can then be dominated by morons with his SAT and ACT scores. And since high school I've been able to work with an hold my own with such morons — and have learned by studying them all my life that they are among the most dangerous people we have to deal with on this planet, from Wall St. to City Hall to Clark St...

The "smartest guy in the room..." was what brough ENRON down.

And anyone who remembers places like Danang and My Tho will remember...

Save us, again, from "The Best and the Brightest".

Anonymous wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

How is the basic skills test

How is the basic skills test racially biased? I keep hearing that. The people taking this test graduated from college. We are all supposed to be learning English 101 and Math 101. The basic skills test isn't even Math 101. Its elementary and some high school math. I would like to get some input here on how this test is biased against "African Americans" or "Latinos". Whoever is on this board commenting about how racially biased it is, is insulting the intelligence of it's own ethnicity. Proper English is proper English. I do not want my children calling "wolves", "wolfseses". Teachers who want to teach need some basic skills. I said before that this test DOES NOT determine how well you will teach to a class. But if you plan on teaching English or Math and cannot pass, please find another profession.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago


Not understanding why one needs 11th grade achievement level in all subjects to teach them at a second grade level.

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