(iStock photo by Ryan Balderas, via EdSource)

California teacher candidates may soon be able to take fewer tests to prove they are ready to teach, if legislation approved by the Assembly Committee on Education becomes law.

In its only meeting scheduled this year, the Assembly Education Committee last week approved two bills that would temporarily give teacher candidates the option to use university coursework to replace the required California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, as well as the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, referred to as CSET.

A teacher candidate is required to prove proficiency in basic reading, writing and math by passing the CBEST or other approved exams before earning a credential. Candidates also are required to prove subject matter competence by passing tests that are part of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers or by completing coursework approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The authors of the bills said the legislation is needed to help teacher candidates complete their credentials during the coronavirus pandemic, as most testing centers are closed, and to ensure a steady stream of new teachers into California classrooms. Both bills expire in three years.

Assembly Bill 1982 would exempt teacher candidates from the basic skills test if they earn a grade of B or better in coursework and tests approved by a university teacher preparation program. Assembly Bill 2485 would allow candidates for single- or multiple-subject credentials the option to use college courses in subjects related to the credential they are seeking — instead of taking the California Subject Examinations for Teachers — to prove they are competent to teach a subject.

Teacher shortage in state

“California is facing a significant teacher shortage and COVID-19 will only exacerbate the shortage across the state,” said Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, the bill’s author in a statement included in the analysis of AB 2485. “This pandemic will drastically affect all teaching positions, especially in the rural and urban areas where schools will be faced with many challenges. Credentialing programs are seeing a decline in enrollment, which only continues to increase the teacher shortage in our schools. As our state grapples with the impacts of this virus, we must come together to help Californians. Teachers and students will need all the assistance to overcome the impacts of COVID-19, so by expanding the pathways for teacher credentialing opportunities, we can move in a direction to address the teacher shortage in our California schools.”

About 40 percent of California’s teacher candidates struggle to pass a gauntlet of standardized tests required for them to earn a credential, according to data from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Calls to reduce testing for teachers have gained momentum in recent years as the state struggles to put a dent in the persistent teacher shortage.

When students take those tests depends on the teacher preparation program in which they are enrolled. For instance, some teacher preparation programs require that students pass the CSET before admission, while some allow students to enroll first, then require they pass the test before they begin student teaching.

Recently, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing temporarily suspended some testing requirements for teacher candidates who were unable to complete required exams because testing centers closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The commission does not have the power to eliminate or make substantial changes to tests mandated by state law. That must be done by legislation or executive order.

Assembly Bill 1982

Assembly Bill 1982, authored by Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, also allows candidates to combine tests and coursework to satisfy the basic skills requirement. Cunningham called the CBEST “an impediment to recruiting qualified, quality teachers” and said there is no evidence that it correlates with classroom teaching performance. He said the legislation would allow teachers unable to take the test this year because of coronavirus closures to get into credentialing programs.

“We can study and assess how it’s working in a couple of years out and look at whether it should be extended after that,” he said.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, expressed concern about the bill, but ultimately voted to pass it. “I know this is supposed to be a temporary fix,” Weber said. “But I would hate, as most things we do, we put things in for three years and we remove the sunset and it becomes a thing and we never discuss the critical issue of how we engage in the certification of teachers.”

Four members of the committee voted yes and three members abstained. It now moves to the Appropriations Committee where it must get majority support before it can be voted on by the entire Legislature.

Assembly Bill 2485

Assembly Bill 2485 would allow candidates the option to use college courses they have taken in areas related to the credential they are seeking to prove they are competent to teach a subject. Or they could use a combination of university coursework, a subject matter program approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and tests from the California Subject Examinations to prove competency in the subject matter. That would allow teachers to avoid having to complete all the tests in the CSET formerly required to earn a specific credential.

The California Subject Examinations are a catalog of required exams that offer tests for each credential. Elementary teachers earn a multiple subject credential by passing three tests: in science and math; reading, language, literature, history and social science; and physical education, human development and visual and performing arts. Middle and high school teachers earn single subject credentials in areas such as art, biology or English by passing at least one subject exam.

The bill passed by consensus and will move to the Appropriations Committee.

Making these tests optional could mean economic relief for some teacher candidates, especially those who have had to take a test multiple times. Tests can cost anywhere from $99 for a single subject exam each time it is taken to $247 for the three tests that make up the CSET: Multiple Subjects Test. The CBEST costs $41 if a paper test is taken and $61 if a test is taken online.

“California is facing an unprecedented teacher shortage,” Cunningham said in a statement. “The hurdles that are needed to become a credentialed teacher in California have multiplied, increasing costs and burdens on candidates. One of the most arbitrary hurdles, the CBEST, is a costly and ineffective measurement of future teacher performance. Multiple peer-reviewed studies confirm that there is no association between the CBEST and teacher performance.”

Story originally published by EdSource.

Diana Lambert