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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

To boost teacher diversity, state scraps limits on basic skills test-taking

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to scrap a policy established just four years ago that set a limit on the number of times prospective teachers could take the required basic skills tests.

The decision is aimed at eliminating a barrier for minority college students who want to enter the teaching profession, but tend to fare worse on exams than their white counterparts.

State school board president Gery Chico said the state needs to “manipulate the pipeline” of teachers in order to increase the disproportionately small number of African American and Latino educators in Illinois schools.

“When you have a student body like ours, nobody is looking for perfect parity but we have to improve,” he said. “You have to have some reflection of what the student body looks like.”

Half of students in Illinois public schools are white, but close to 84 percent of their teachers are white, according to state records.

In Chicago Public Schools, 86 percent of students, but less than half of teachers, are black or Latino. Catalyst Chicago wrote about the lack of diversity in the teaching force in 2011The problem has worsened in recent years, as veteran black educators have lost their jobs with the advent of more school closings, turnarounds that overhaul entire faculties, and other actions. In addition, as the percentage of Latino students has soared to 44 percent, Latino teachers remain a paltry 18 percent of CPS teachers.

 “So many people are not passing” 

 In January 2010, the state set a five-attempt limit on the number of times teacher candidates could take each of the four portions of the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP). But many candidates-- especially black and Latino students – found it challenging to pass all of the exam’s components in five tries or less, especially after the state adopted higher cut-off scores in September 2010.

Test result data from the fourth quarter of 2013,  for example, showed that only 18 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos passed the math portion of the test, compared to 40 percent of whites. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Latinos met the reading comprehension requirements, compared to 52 percent of whites.

Overall, less than a third of all test-takers – and less than 18 percent of black and Latinos -- passed all four sections of the test last year, according to state records.

“So many people are not passing these tests,” says Anne Hallett, director of Grow Your Own Teachersan organization that seeks to diversify the teaching workforce. “Lots of factors are troubling about standardized tests, from test anxiety to [the quality of] your own education leading up to the time you took the test. If it’s been less than sterling, it makes it more difficult to pass these tests.”

Hallett added that students who speak English as a second language face additional challenges when taking standardized tests. Plus, many people have difficulties with math.

“If you’ve taken [the test] four times, then you’re now facing a limit which puts yet another stressor on the test taking,” Hallett says.

Until recently, state law required that prospective teachers pass the TAP before entering an education program. Now, schools have the discretion to allow students into an education program before they’ve passed the exam, although candidates must still pass it before their student teaching.

The state also waives the tests for students who have high scores on the ACT or SAT.

The decision to do away with the cap on test-taking attempts stemmed out of an ISBE meeting last fall on diversifying the state’s teaching workforce, says Jason Helfer, the state’s assistant superintendent on teacher and leader effectiveness.

During two subsequent meetings in February, ISBE staff spoke with administrators of college education programs, as well as young teachers of color, about how to improvement minority recruitment.

Helfer noted one difference in the two groups’ opinions: “Faculty thought of recruitment and support in terms of program elements, [but] the young teachers thought of recruitment and support in terms of individual relationships.”

In order to continue the conversation, ISBE has convened an advisory group on recruiting a more diverse teaching workforce that will meet periodically and share its work with the state.


David Duke wrote 44 weeks 20 hours ago

Go ahead play the race card spite of race its ok to be stupid.

Dimmu Borgir wrote 44 weeks 17 hours ago

Make the test harder!

I am a Hispanic male and this is so insulting. I passed the TAP the first time with a high score, and yes I am proud. Why does diversity mean letting more lower quality teachers in. The 'profession' is already plagued with low quality teachers and most people know most teachers are those who were at the bottom of their high school or college class. Lowering the limits shows a lack of creativity and effort on the part of those trying to increase diversity, a random booth or scholarship would be a better start.

We need to make the test harder, reduce the amount of new teacher programs, coupled with much higher pay. This might reshape the 'profession' to be of very smart people who get pay well. Bad teachers should be pushed out regardless of race. Raise the standards...on US!

xian wrote 44 weeks 17 hours ago

"Lower quality"

The data I've seen shows that candidates with higher scores on these standardized tests have no better teaching performance and are less likely to stay in the teaching profession.

This is a reform that increases teaching quality.

Moving to a system that selects for the actual qualities that make for good teaching rather than standardized test scores would further improve the situation.

I want high quality teachers from diverse backgrounds who can engage students most effectively. I'm rather uninterested in test scores. I first took the SAT at 8, and I scored higher at 11 than I currently score on practice tests.

I am a considerably better teacher at 36 than I was at 11.

Anonymous wrote 44 weeks 17 hours ago

Xian Please

You may have been eleven, however our children did not have to wait on you to get a better school. Teacher quality sucks in America and even more in Chicago.

Dimmu Borgir wrote 44 weeks 17 hours ago

What is the easiest way to increase teacher

Yes, TAP scores may not correlate with quality of teaching but is there any test for how engaging or how good you are 'teaching'. No, and this is the case for standardized tests....they are the best tool that is most easily applied to test a large mass of people. We dont have the resources to give better attention or be more specific.

For now, as in the admission to any elite group, a high test score reflects high capacities in others in I would bet if you score high on a test you will also be capable of doing other complex tasks like teaching.

Because of this action some people will FURTHER assume that minorities like me are dumber than average and are under-qualified....maybe this is personal.

xian wrote 44 weeks 16 hours ago

A hammer is not a good tool

A hammer is not a good tool for decorating a cake even if you have no other tool.

Anyone who would assume that minorities are dumber than average because we look at real data and see that a test that has nothing to do with teaching competency but a heck of a lot to do with race and class is not an effective tool is internalizing a hell of a lot of institutional prejudice.

I don't think we should make policy for such bigots' benefit. I think we should disempower them as much as possible.

Anonymous wrote 44 weeks 13 hours ago
Experienced Teacher wrote 44 weeks 5 hours ago

This is embarrassing.

Honestly, I agree with Dimmu. No, high test scores do not correlate with being a good teacher. But having higher intelligence (which we can only measure with tests, at this point) DOES correlate with having better problem-solving skills, which is a large part of teaching. How do I help these 5 struggling children, while pushing these 5 high achievers, and also bring up the ones in the middle? All while handling discipline issues and administration politics? And dealing with Common Core? Sorry, I would rather have a teacher with high test scores teaching MY child than one with a "great personality" and mediocre intelligence.

Dumbing down the requirements of the test is an embarrassment to our profession, and feeds into the public-school-bashing, union-bashing, right wing even more.

Let's move past political correctness and admit that we need teachers who are well educated, which is basically what a test measures, in order to educate children well!

Anonymous wrote 44 weeks 5 hours ago

U of C Consortium Research

Says the best predictor of success in college is good grades. If this is true why not create a system that recognizes success in college in place of the basic skillos test? That has to be a better measure than a high ACT score.

Roy Mac wrote 44 weeks 4 hours ago

If you cannot pass this test

If you cannot pass this test after FIVE tries you should either return to school to further educate yourself or you should consider a different profession.


It's refreshing to see teachers here agreeing that dumbing down the entrance tests any further would be a stain to the profession and would only incite anti-union bias which is rife in the country and world now.

But mostly it would be a giant F YOU to hundreds of thousands of Chicago's children. Put up your middle finger and extend. It is infuriating to me as a CPS parent to even consider this. I want the best and the brightest just as ANY PARENT.

Hard to believe there are those who would try to explain away the folly of setting the bar so low just to be inclusive when that should NOT be the primary goal at all. The soft bigotry of low expectations...that was one of just a handful of smart things Bush ever said/thought. He was right and allowing under-prepared/capable teachers of any color to take a test enough times so they pass it is shameful to everyone.

Anonymous wrote 44 weeks 4 hours ago

Re: Grades

Considering grades is an option, however please know that all schools are not created equal. An A at one school is a C at another. The ACT would be a better indicator of success.

xian wrote 44 weeks 4 hours ago

High Stakes Tests do not test

High Stakes Tests do not test intelligence or test flexible problem solving skills. They test conformity and problem solving within rigid, fixed systems.

Both qualities are reverse correlated with effective instruction.

Data suggests that having educators who share ethnic/cultural backgrounds with students helps student learning.

I would like to raise the bar and have the best teachers in the classrooms for students. I would like to throw out arbitrary measures that do not effectively measure any qualities that are necessary to be an effective teacher.

All arguments that start with the idea that standardized tests that disparately assess folks of color are fundamental, objective measures of intelligence have a troubling link to eugenics and place inherent value in the current system's racially disparate valuation of ability and humanity.

Roy Mac wrote 44 weeks 4 hours ago

Then do away with the test

Then do away with the test all together and use other means to determine whether or not someone should be a teacher. But while the test is in place we should not be altering it to make people feel better. If we cannot educate minority teacher candidates to the level where they can pass a test after five administrations we have a far more serious issue. Which I believe we do, unfortunately.

Daniel wrote 44 weeks 2 hours ago

I am so happy about this change!

This change makes it much easier for a person of color because these statistics are true. I looked at a practice test and saw how difficult the problems are. At a disadvantage every person does not test well and have a good education background. I am a senior in high-school and this test makes me put my dreams of becoming a teacher at stake. I am so happy that they exempted the amount of times a person could take this test. I am now seeking out for preparing for this test, because I want to become an elementary teacher.

Roy Mac wrote 44 weeks 2 hours ago

Daniel if you can't pass the

Daniel if you can't pass the test after five tries you should choose another career. This is true whether you are white, black, green or red.

Rod Estvan wrote 44 weeks 1 hour ago

ISBE had no choice

The ISBE had no choice but to take the some type of action. In prior ISBE discussions about the race based results on Test of Academic Proficiency Dr. Koch argued that in time more Black and Latinos test takers would pass, it simply hasn't happened.

From what I can understand the key stumbling block is the ILTS Test of Academic Proficiency - Mathematics Subtest. I am not sure the best solution is taking this subtest over and over again if your certification area is not going to be in high school math or even junior high level math. I can honestly see a somewhat lower standard related to the Mathematics Subtest for primary grade level teachers.

Having looked at some of the practice questions in the math subtest my impression is that the standard assumes college competency equal to completion of college algebra or introductory statistics. College Algebra is the most failed withdrawn course in the US followed by statistics and the intro level science classes. The factors that lead to Algebra failure get passed on to the next generation. This has been happening for the past 40 years in our country. It is also reflected in international comparative testing between US and other nations, where US students are weakest in math.

I question honestly whether a 1st grade teacher needs competency in college level Algebra or statistics. It would be nice if these teachers did have that level of competency, but is it critical to the actual practice of being a 1st grade teacher?

Rod Estvan

Rod Estvan wrote 44 weeks 1 hour ago

One more thing

When I was in my Master's level education classes at St Xavier University the biggest problem some of my fellow teachers had was the educational statistics class they were required to pass. So even certified teachers from suburban districts, not math teachers I would add, often struggled with this class and had to join study groups to get through the class. I didn't think it was all that hard and as I recall I got an A, but for some of my fellow teachers it was brutal.

Rod Estvan

Roy Mac wrote 44 weeks 1 hour ago

Rod are there different exams

Rod are there different exams for the different types of teaching one wants to pursue? Meaning - is there a different test for a kindergarten teacher than one for a high school science teacher? If there are different entrance exams then I agree with you on the algebra for 1st graders. If there is but one test then I'm not sure your idea would work or be a good move.

If there are different tests then what happens if the 1st grade teacher who could not cut the math part of the exam but is still a good teacher of little kiddos wants to begin teaching another math?

Experienced Teacher wrote 44 weeks 1 hour ago

They could have done better

I would think that we need specialized tests for various teaching levels, if the above is true. I agree a primary teacher does not necessarily need college level statistics; however, a basic college education presumes a certain level of ability. Maybe the courses that people are passing BEFORE taking the test are too easy - or were taught by a teacher who did not understand math!!

Either way, the problem is not solved by lowering the passing bar. There could be a different exam for primary teaching. There are definitely soft skills that a test can't measure, but there are also other ways of serving children if you can't pass a competency test to become a teacher.

Rod Estvan wrote 44 weeks 19 min ago

the different tests

The ILTS Test of Academic Proficiency - Mathematics Subtest is required for all teachers. There are numerous other tests for academic areas - including in math called content area tests. There are what is called Assessment of Professional Teaching (APT) tests and also Content-area tests.

The Assessment of Professional Teaching (APT) tests are divided into different grade level, actually grade level groupings. The content area tests included a separate Mathematics (115) exam if you go to you can see sort of what the math exam looks like. This is harder than what is called the Test of Academic Proficiency - Mathematics Subtest.

Rod Estvan

Roy Mac wrote 44 weeks 1 min ago

Thanks Rod. I'm going to

Thanks Rod. I'm going to take the 20 question test and I'll report back my results. I stunk in math in high school and college FWIW.

Don wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

College Algebra?

There's no such thing as college algebra. There's algebra taken in college by students who did not successfully complete a full high school college prep curriculum. A college grad who can't pass this test still hasn't completed a high school college prep curriculum.

I bet those famous and popular Finnish teachers are not having this debate.

Rod Estvan wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

Don so your position is any

Don so your position is any student who enters a four year college and does not CLEP out of College Algebra is effectively in a remedial class? Even Northwestern University offers full college credit for what it calls Mathematics 202 that covers "elementary linear algebra, probability, elementary statistics."

In fact I took in my freshman year at the University of North Dakota "college algebra" because I received three credit hours for it and it was relatively easy. For some students it wasn't so easy however. Since I was an undergraduate political science major it made little sense to CLEP out into a more advanced class.

Rod Estvan

Libby Booker wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

The Whole World's Laughing

Can you imagine how this is viewed in Finland, China, Japan, Korea, Germany or any of the countries where teaching is an esteemed profession and their students kick our butts? Furthermore, what college would a.)accept and b.) graduate students who couldn't pass a BASIC SKILLS test on the first try. This ain't rocket science. It's been said that teachers come from the bottom third of their graduating class. . . well now we can move that down to bottom tenth.

Experienced Teacher wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

So true, the whole country will laugh at us too.

What a sad, sad day in Illinois. I thought we wanted children to get a better education. I don't care how you slice it, a teacher who cannot pass a test should not teach. If you want to work with children, there are many other careers you could choose. I would not be able to be a physicist or a mathematician. AND I would not expect the test to be lowered to accommodate me.

I am a proud union teacher who wants all children to receive a good, solid education in the basics. Sadly, that is lacking in many of the people I encounter in Chicago - a basic lack of knowledge of the world, science, math, etc., which is clearly the result of a poor education (and of course the family issues too... but that's another story). I did not grow up here, and I am appalled that there are teachers who use poor grammar. That should not be tolerated, unless we want even more parents to run for the charters, the suburbs, and vouchers.

Totally agree that this is bigotry of low expectations. I know plenty of teachers of all races who are very intelligent and don't need 6 tries to pass a test. I think this is very insulting to teachers - and children - of color. "You don't need a really smart teacher, you just need a teacher who looks like you!" What kind of shallow worldview is that??

Dimmu Borgir wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

Why is lowering the bar

Why is lowering the bar choice of action to recruit more minorities. It shows a lack of creativity and problem solving. Why not have a minority scholarship, a booth at a college fair, minority speakers....get creative.

Why is it not obvious this choice makes the profession and minorities look even more stupid.

northside wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago


Why is not the LACK of males in Elementary education not considered a problem of DIVERSITY?


Roy Mac wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

Libby and Experienced Teacher

Libby and Experienced Teacher - well said! And Dimitri I agree; it's important to find ways to have more diversity in front of the classroom, but not at this cost. It serves no one, really, and dumbs down the profession. Everyone deserves better.

ACT wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

"high score" in the ACT

ISBE lists a high score in the ACT as a 22. Really? That's barely "college-ready" according to ACT.

xian wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

Sigh. Again, the test has


Again, the test has nothing to do with teaching ability or skills required to be a good teacher.

The folks saying that "we are lowering the bar" by not making people pass an arbitrary test might as well be saying we are lowering the bar by not making people do a rodeo exercise before teaching.

I agree that we should ditch the test and use an alternative method. But this is still an improvement.

And the idea that "there are plenty of folks of all races who can pass a test" is simply false. Currently there are declining numbers of minority educators even as there are increasing proportions of minority students.

That's not a mark on minority applicants, it's a problem with a test that has nothing to do with teaching ability.

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