Illinois may dump test for would-be teachers

Only 35 percent of would-be teachers in Illinois passed a basic skills test in math, reading, language arts and writing this year. Teacher candidates must pass — they have five tries — to be admitted to a teacher preparation program. The state board of education should resist pressure to eliminate the requirement, editorializes the Chicago Tribune.

Because black and Hispanic candidates are more likely to fail, Chicago-area education college deans oppose the higher standards.

 The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law may file a civil rights lawsuit against the state because the threshold unfairly creates too high a hurdle for minority candidates who want to be teachers. The cut scores “almost certainly will have a disparate impact on minorities,” Paul Strauss, co-director of litigation for the group, tells us.

Maintaining high standards is worth a fight, the Trib argues.

“The test does not measure traits such as enthusiasm, empathy, ability to communicate effectively with children, and dedication to the teaching profession,” writes Strauss.

It’s certainly possible to have basic reading, writing and math skills and be a lousy teacher. But all the enthusiasm and empathy in the world won’t turn a semi-literate, innumerate person into a good teacher — at least not if she’s supposed to teach reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, history or science.

Illinois may exempt teacher candidates who score a 22 or better — considered “college ready” — on the ACT from taking the basic skills exam. “By comparison, in 2008 researchers at the Illinois Education Research Council reported what thousands of veteran Chicago teachers had scored an average of 19.4 (out of a possible 36) on their ACT exams,” reports the  Trib.

Would-be secondary teachers — those planning to specialize in English, history, math, science, etc. — tend to score above average on college admissions tests. Would-be elementary teachers tend to score below average for college goers.

Update:  Teacher education programs will be allowed to admit students who fail some parts of the basic skills test on a provisional basis. They must pass the entire test to complete the program.

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  1. From the editorial:

    Setting higher expectations for those who want to be educators front-loads the pipeline with only the best candidates. There’s a better chance they’ll become great teachers.

    It’d sure be nice if there were any evidence at all to support the Trib’s assertion here.

    There isn’t. And I’m as surprised by that as anyone.

    • It sure would be nice if there were any evidence that teachers currently pulling a paycheck are worthy of their hire. Interestingly enough there’s also all sorts of opposition to that idea as well.

      I suppose it’s possible society’s better of when prospective teachers don’t have to demonstrate they’ve absorbed the skills necessary to teach and working teachers don’t have to demonstrate they’re any good at what they do but it just doesn’t seem likely.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    As someone who suffered through a year in a 5th grade classroom with a woman who had failed the Praxis I 4 times and was prepping for her 5th (yay Montgomery county! Great if you’re in Potomac, pretty bad if you’re in a high minority school!)…

    This is a bad idea. Teachers who can’t do elementary school math, speak standard English, or read at a 4th grade level have NO BUSINESS in the classroom!

    (She managed most of the year by having the smart kids teach the slow ones, and by screaming at us when we corrected her. Coming from small, rural PA schools with good teachers, I was totally shellshocked.)

  3. Remember, these tests aren’t designed to figure out who the great teachers will be. These tests are simply to prevent anyone who doesn’t know enough from becoming a teacher.

    I’d say, rather than only allow people to take them a certain number of times, allow them to take the tests as much as they like. Ignorance can be fixed, and anyone who spends the time and effort to do so should be allowed to demonstrate it.

    Personally, I’m tired of running into teachers who don’t know the basics. As a teacher myself, it’s embarrassing. For example, if you don’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s,” how are you competent to grade your students on it?

    And by the way, teacher-who-asked-while-I-observed-in-another-school, Saturn *is* a planet in our solar system. Sheesh.

  4. The problem is that the cut score is currently excluding students with ACTs of 27 and 28. I’ve never had a problem with the test, but the legislature set the cut score without examining anything. The test, btw, is not the Praxis test, but Illinois’ own Basic Skills Test, which is set at the high school level. Students who take it in the summer after high school do fairly well; those who take it in the sophomore year of college do poorly.

    • A person who manages a ACT (composite score) of 27-28 is in the upper 25% of all test takers for that go around (given that the highest score is 35-36 on the ACT).

      If a person failed the PRAXIS 14 times, I don’t believe they have any business being a teacher or instructor, and if they can’t handle basic math, reading, and writing, I suggest they go back to grade school to get the education they didn’t learn the first time around.


  5. SuperSub says:

    Seriously, has anything good come out of Chicago in the last ten years?

  6. “Because black and Hispanic candidates are more likely to fail, Chicago-area education college deans oppose the higher standards.”

    Well, that certainly seems like a good reason to abandon the standards to me.

  7. Again. There is no evidence that teacher ability has any bearing on student outcome.

    Find the cite that proves otherwise–and the few that show any relationship assume student homogeneity, so let’s all laugh.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      It should almost be a tautology that teacher ability is defined by better student outcomes (if not, then we should just pay for cheaper babysitters …). But I’m pretty sure that this isn’t what you mean.

      Do you mean that there is no evidence that teachers who score better on standardized tests (SAT, ACT, whatever) don’t have students who score better?

      • My bad. I meant “teacher academic ability”, which is what is being tested. Sorry.

  8. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Cal, are you claiming that there’s no bare minimum below which a teacher is too incompetent to teach?

    So, if, say, a third grade teacher can’t handle 3 digit addition or reading words with more than two syllables, student achievement wouldn’t suffer?

    Could a Chimpanzee teach school? How about an alfalfa plant?

    If there’s no minimum ability necessary for decent student outcomes, why not just let the little darlings run wild and free?

  9. Cal, are you claiming that there’s no bare minimum below which a teacher is too incompetent to teach?

    I would say instead that the job itself, which requires a college degree, probably defines that minimum ability, and that the minimum ability level for elementary school teachers is probably pretty low. I also think that if we controlled for student cognitive ability, we might find some interesting patterns.

    In 1983, California instituted the CBEST,which dramatically reduced the number of low ability teachers in California. In 2002, the Multiple Subject Test, which was much harder, cut another swath through the teaching ranks.

    Neither change made a dent in our CSTs, and research done at several points in this timeframe consistently showed that new teachers were less effective than teachers with several years of experience. If the new teachers, with far better qualifications, weren’t dramatically better–and they weren’t–then what, other than making us feel smug, did raising the standards do?

    • You exhibit a faith in college degrees that I do not share. A college education no longer means what it used to.