For the Record: Teacher basic skills test

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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. 

  • Lizzy

    My husband took the Math TAP test yesterday, he studied, more than I have ever seen him. You see, he made a decision 2 years ago to change his career. He was not happy, his heart was in teaching, he wanted to teach History and making a difference in the hearts and minds of students. He went back to school, earned a 4.0, and studied for the math portion of the TAP test. He studied for MONTHS and MONTHS, he put his heart and soul in it. He bought the study guides, he bought the elementary math books to relearn the lessons he was taught 15 years ago. He started form the bottom and worked his way up. I saw him gain confidence I haven’t seen him have in years. He went in and took the test and he failed, he failed the same test that MORE THAN 1/2 fail. Did that statistic matter to him? No, because he saw a failing grade and he let that define him, That test deflated him. It made him feel like he was nothing. It made him feel like all the students I teach and they look at an assessment test that says they are below average and give up. He did that. Do you know how much it hurts to see him look at himself like that test grade?

    Illinois lost a great teacher yesterday, he was crushed, he put that fail grade in his wallet to remind him what he is. He is one of the thousands of people that define his self-worth from a test. So thank you Pearson, for helping my husband realize he was a failure.

    Could he pass the ACT or SAT- I am 100% positive he could, he did not try that route, he tried to take the impossible test that thousand fail. He chose this one because the option of SAT or ACT was not given to him. I think there should be some sort of teaching test. I also think it should be taken in to consideration that a history teacher could care less where the shadow lays or how much paint you need to cover the walls. Just like a math teacher could care less what the 8 parts of speech or, or what a plot summary is.

  • Kimberly Hansel

    Lizzy, just wanted to make sure that you were aware that you husband can retake the test as many times as he wants to. It is important to not let one test defeat you. A test does not define us, only we define us. It is not Pearson’s fault. I hope that you husband can grow beyond his current mindset and take the test again. If he really wants it, it will happen.