Testing result disparities spark intense discussion in Commission on Teacher Credentialing meeting

In the June 15-16 meeting of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the commission approved the transmittal of the second annual report to the Legislature on implementation on Senate Bill 488, which eliminates the Reading Competence Instruction Assessment (RICA), and had an impassioned discussion on the passing rates for Commission-approved field tests, citing extreme concern for the performance of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups of candidates, particularly those who identify as Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

Chair Marquita Grenot-Scheyer opened the meeting acknowledging the challenges facing new teachers. “They will be facing censorship of ideas, history and an intolerance for diversity that is unprecedented,” she said. “Such efforts to restrict teaching and learning have huge implications for educators and students who have been impacted by local anti-critical race theory efforts. Most importantly, these efforts obstruct students of color and white students from learning together about issues of race and diversity. … Our collective work is critical and fundamental to building the next generation of citizens who will help shape our democracy.”

One more element remains to fulfill SB 488

SB 488 requires the commission to report to the Legislature annually on its progress in implementation of the requirements in the statute related to literacy instruction in teacher preparation and candidate assessment. Last year, the commission adopted Literacy Program Standards and teaching performance expectations (TPEs) for all commission-approved Multiple Subject/Single Subject (MS/SS) and Education Specialist credentials, which should transition to the new literacy standards by July 1, 2024; all new PK-3 Early Childhood Education credentials to be approved beginning in 2023 must demonstrate alignment to the new literacy standards and TPEs; and all new MS/SS or Education Specialist programs must demonstrate alignment to the new literacy standards and TPEs. A technical assistance plan is being developed to ensure that all programs understand the new standards and TPEs and the timeline for alignment.

The last step to full implementation of the bill is to create and implement in the field the Literacy Performance Assessment. A workgroup has been meeting since March 2023 in what is expected to be a two-year development process for the assessment, with a pilot test in spring 2024 and field testing in 2025. Importantly, prior statute did not require Single Subject candidates to take and pass RICA. Per SB 488, Single Subject candidates do not need to take the new Literacy Performance Assessment, therefore for all adopted performance assessment models, the Single Subject teaching performance assessment will continue to be administered as developed.

The commission approved the transmission of the Report to the Legislature on the Implementation of Senate Bill 488 Teacher Credentialing – Reading Instruction.

Commission-approved field tests invoke hearty discussion on disparities

In a report on the passing rates for CTC-approved examinations from 2017–18 through 2021–22, Professional Services Division consultant Mike Taylor first reviewed recent changes to the most popular assessments taken before beginning a teacher preparation program to meet basic skills requirements — the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST) and California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).

Assembly Bill 130 added coursework as an alternative means to demonstrate basic skills proficiency. This provision allows Commission-approved educator preparation programs to verify that a candidate has demonstrated basic skills proficiency by accepting qualifying college-level coursework from a regionally accredited institution of higher education as long as certain conditions are met. The second key provision of AB 130 expanded the available options to allow teacher candidates to meet the subject matter requirement by qualifying coursework, successful completion of an academic major in the subject they will teach, or a combination of the two.

In 2021–22, 1,934 of 11,232 candidates met the basic skills requirement through coursework; even fewer used the option for the subject matter requirement. “Because of the new options for meeting the basic skills and subject matter requirements made available by AB 130, it is expected that the numbers of individuals using examinations to meet the basic skills requirement and the subject matter requirement will decrease as the new options are more fully implemented in the field,” Taylor said. “However, since candidates usually take exams before they enroll in a preparation program, it may take some time before these new options are understood by those whom pre-candidates may contact for information.”

Commissioners and staff discussed who might be most helpful in getting the word out about the new alternatives, including college advisors and current teachers. Commission staff also said they were working on a widget tool to live on the CBEST homepage that will guide candidates through a series of questions to figure out if they already meet the coursework requirements.

Assessment results

While the first-time pass rates for all sections of the CBEST was 65 percent and the cumulative rate (candidates who have taken the test multiple times) is 82 percent, disaggregating by demographics shows a large gap between white and Asian American students and BIPOC students, causing great concern and debate in the meeting.

Commissioner Annemarie Francois expressed frustration at the results. “Every time we look at the data, I continue to be discouraged about these numbers as they relate to BIPOC students — and angry, to be honest, looking at the foundational element tests in relation to African American and Latino students,” she said. “What other kind of qualitative data is being looked at and analyzed to figure out what these numbers mean? There is something we are not doing.”

Referring to the cumulative passing rates that have improved, Francois said, “At what cost do our candidates have to persevere? Think about the financial cost, the emotional and mental costs, when these candidates have to take these exams three, four, five times.”

Commissioner Christopher Davis drove home the point that adjusting a test and preparation will never make up for the inequities experienced by BIPOC students throughout their education, beginning in K-12.

“It is never going to be equitable for us to have an examination to measure something that was inequitable,” he said. “It’s ridiculous when it comes to looking at this particular data and seeing that there’s so many African Americans, especially African American women, that are failing this test exponentially, all of these tests across the board — and there is no real qualitative data that helps us to understand why. We see our students have a hard time passing algebra and when we looked at the data, about 79 percent of the students had geometry or higher. And so many of our students struggle with just passing algebra at the high school level — we have a systemic problem at our lower grades that we really need to address. We need to help our students.”

See the report for specific results for CSET assessments, National Evaluation Series Examinations, RICA, California Teacher of English Learners Examination, CSET: World Languages Bilingual-Specific Examinations and the California Preliminary Administrative Credential Examination.