For the Record: ACT, SAT and Teacher Basic Skills Test

October 16, 2012

In lieu of passing a basic skills test that many aspiring teachers failed, lSBE will now allow ACT and SAT exam scores to be used for admission into education colleges.

The revision, passed in an emergency rulemaking procedure this summer, comes two years after the Board raised the minimum passing scores across all subsections of the basic skills test.

Candidates who failed the basic skills test can submit a minimum ACT score of 22 or an SAT minimum score of 1030 as long as it was taken within the last five years, according to the new rule. The emergency rule is set to expire on Dec. 21, but before then, the Illinois State Board of Education is expected to make a similar rule permanent with the added provision that admitted students eventually pass the basic skills test.

The expanded benchmark should open the door to many more students getting into education colleges. About half of the candidates who failed the basic skills test on their first try would meet the ACT or SAT thresholds, according to a comparison conducted by the Illinois Research Council. A score of 20.3 is considered by the ACT to be the minimum benchmark for college readiness.  
The fact that so many students scored well on college admission exams but fail the basic skills test raises questions among some observers. In 2010, ISBE raised the bar for passing the basic skills test, requiring applicants to education schools to earn scores of at least 75 percent correct in math, 85 percent in reading and language arts, and 8 out of 12 points on the writing test.

ISBE Superintendent Christopher Koch pushed for the higher bar as part of a high profile campaign to improve the quality of teacher candidates. ISBE representative Mary Fergus said the emergency rule to allow applicants to use their ACT and SAT scores was not a reversal of Koch’s earlier position, but simply represented “another option for students.”  

Initially, education schools across Illinois pushed back against the higher cut scores.

Pass rates plummeted at first, especially among African American and Latino students.  Among candidates who took the test in May and June of 2012, about half passed the reading, language arts and math portion of the test. In math and language arts, black and Latino students had significantly lower passing rates.  

University of Illinois at Chicago Dean of Education Victoria Chou said there’s no evidence that the basic skills test predicts teacher performance.

“What matters is the quality of the program,” she said. “That’s where they develop literacy and critical thinking. Those of us who prepare teachers are entitled by the state to prepare teachers.  Over the past couple of years, I see the state take over parts of that authority.”