California slashes number of tests teachers need to take to earn degrees

CREDIT: iStock_Ryan-Balderas

California’s newly approved state budget allows teacher candidates to skip two of the tests required to earn a teaching degree if they take approved courses.

Teacher candidates no longer have to take the California Basic Skills Test, or CBEST, or the California Subject Matter Exams for Teachers, called CSETs to graduate.

The CBEST tests reading, math, and writing skills and is typically passed before a student is accepted into a teacher preparation program. The CSET tests a candidate’s skills in the subject they will be teaching. Teacher candidates must prove their mastery of the subject before graduating, but many teacher preparation programs require that the test be taken before a student enters their teacher preparation program.

Almost half of potential teachers in California struggle to pass the four standardized tests required to obtain a diploma, according to data from the California Commission on Teacher Accreditation. Almost 68% of people who took CBEST got it right the first time and 84% succeeded after several attempts, according to the commission. The CSET, which is actually a series of tests, had a pass rate of around 68% in 2016-17, with most recent year data available.

“This is a game-changer for those who have dreamed of becoming a teacher and found themselves stranded when they could not pass the basic skills or subject entry exams,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, Executive Director of the California Commission on Teacher Accreditation.

“These tests are meant to accurately measure preparation to begin teacher preparation, not to be a barrier that prevents potentially excellent teachers from learning to teach,” Sandy said. “We are eager to move forward with this change in state policy. As alternatives to high-stakes testing, these measures will resize the role of testing and allow a wider and more diverse range of people to pursue careers in teaching. “

The changes take effect immediately, she said.

Silvia Salgado, who resides in Corona, spent three years as a teaching assistant before passing all sections of CBEST and being eligible for long-term replacement assignments. But what she really wanted was to be a kindergarten teacher, which required her to pass the multi-subject CSET. After struggling to pass CBEST, Salgado said she began to question herself and never found the courage to take the multiple subject test.

“Passing this bill means that I can finally have my own classroom, teach a grade level that I love and that excites me,” said Salgado. “Like many future teachers like me who want to teach kindergarten, an exam like the CSET was a barrier that kept our career dreams from coming true.

The State has already proposed other alternatives to CBEST, including the Scholastic Aptitude Test, College Board Advanced Placement Examinations, California State University Placement Exams, American College Testing or parts of the CSET. About 90 percent of teacher candidates chose to take CBEST, according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Instead of taking the CBEST, the new law allows teacher candidates to prove they are proficient by obtaining a B or better in college courses in reading, writing and math. Classes eligible to fulfill the reading requirement include Critical Thinking, Literature, Philosophy, Reading, Rhetoric, or Textual Analysis. Eligible writing courses include composition, English, rhetoric, written communications, or writing. Eligible math courses include geometry, math, quantitative reasoning, or statistics. Closely related topics may also be accepted.

Teacher candidates who wish to skip CBEST can have their transcripts reviewed by their teacher preparation program to see if the courses they have taken meet the core competency requirements. If they apply for a degree from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, they can submit their official transcripts along with the completed application package, Sandy said.

If the teacher candidate wishes to use a combination of coursework and testing to meet the basic skills requirements, the candidate will need to receive approval from their teacher preparation program, according to trailer invoice.

In the past candidates for teaching were also required to take tests as part of the California subject-matter examinations for teachers or complete a degree program at their university. Primary school teachers had to take three tests to earn a multi-subject degree, and middle and high school teachers earned single-subject degrees in areas such as art, biology, or English by passing at least a subject examination.

From now on, a candidate for teaching who takes approved courses or obtains a university degree in the subject he will teach does not have to take the test.

If a candidate for teaching is seeking a single-subject degree, the major should be aligned with the degree he is seeking. If they are looking for a multi-subject degree, liberal studies major, or other degree that includes courses in language studies, literature, mathematics, science, social studies, history, arts, physical education and human development may be accepted. Specialized teachers may specialize in the subjects covered by the CSET exam for the Education Specialist Diploma or in courses covered by the multi-subject test.

A teacher preparation program will assess the major to see if it is acceptable, but the Commission on Teachers’ Credentials will appeal to applicants who apply directly to the credentials board, such as those applying for emergency permits, to Sandy said.

Applicants can demonstrate subject proficiency using one of the options or a combination of options, such as passing two of the three subtests of the CSET and using prerequisite courses to meet the requirements, according to the commission.

The Teacher Accreditation Commission may need to pass regulations to clarify the process and will need to communicate with teacher preparation programs and teacher candidates about the new legislation, Sandy said.

Applicants who have started teacher preparation but have not completed the program should contact their program for more information on how this new legislation may affect them, Sandy said.

With a continuing shortage of teachers in California, officials at the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing have been looking for ways to reform teacher testing for several years. The problem has become more urgent during the pandemic when the test centers closed, retirements of teachers increased and the number of teachers refused credentials.

Although teacher candidates are still required to take the Reading Teaching Skills Assessment and the Assessment of educational performance in California in order to obtain a full diploma, the state allows teachers to continue postpone evaluations a little bit longer.

the reading instruction assessment, which measures the ability to teach reading, is required for applicants for multi-subject degrees as well as for special education degrees. The budget extends a current test suspension for candidates who were unable to complete the exam between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2021 because testing centers were closed or had limited capacity. The budget gives the Commission on Teacher Accreditation the power to extend the suspension of testing until June 31, 2022 if it deems it necessary.

Teaching performance assessment measures the extent to which teacher candidates assess students, design instruction, organize subject matter and other skills. It is compulsory for everyone, except for teachers in special education.

The budget allows teacher candidates who cannot complete the pedagogical performance assessment next school year due to school closures linked to Covid-19 to obtain preliminary accreditation. The candidate must have met all other preliminary credential requirements. They must complete the assessment before obtaining a full degree.

The objective of the tests is to ensure that the teacher candidates are ready start the preparation,“Sandy said.” We need to reduce the size of the roadblock. “

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About Mark A. Tomlin

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