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Budget proposal would ease testing requirements for California teachers

CREDIT: iStock_Ryan-Balderas

California teachers may soon have more flexibility when it comes to the tests they are required to take to earn a credential.

The state’s Assembly and Senate budget subcommittees on education are recommending that legislators approve a proposal in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2021-22 state budget that would allow candidates to earn a teaching credential without taking two tests currently required. If it is approved, candidates wouldn’t have to take the California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, or the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET, if they have earned a grade of B or better in qualifying coursework or tests that apply toward requirements for a degree.

Currently, a teacher candidate is required to prove proficiency in basic reading, writing and math by passing the CBEST or other approved exams. The test is usually taken before a student is accepted into a teacher preparation program.

The education trailer bill released May 14 outlines the types of courses that students in teacher preparation programs can take instead of the CBEST. Classes in critical thinking, literature, philosophy, reading, rhetoric or textual analysis can be taken to prove the teacher has basic reading skills. Classes in composition, English and rhetoric can prove basic writing skills, and courses in algebra, geometry, mathematics, quantitative reasoning or statistics can be taken to prove basic math skills.

Teacher candidates also have been required to pass tests that are part of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers to earn a credential. Elementary school teachers must pass three tests — in science and math; reading, language, literature, history and social science; and physical education, human development and visual and performing arts — to earn a multiple-subject credential. Middle and high school teachers earn single-subject credentials in areas such as art, biology or English by passing at least one subject exam.

If the proposal is approved, teacher candidates will have the option of taking coursework at a university in the content area of the credential they are pursuing to prove subject-matter competence instead of taking some or all of the CSET tests required for their credential.

“It’s promising to see the governor and Legislature come together in support of new options for aspiring teachers to demonstrate knowledge and skills through coursework,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “These new flexibilities will strike the right balance by upholding rigorous standards and reducing unnecessary barriers to the teaching profession.”

The proposal, which has gone unchallenged by legislators during the budget process, still needs to be approved by the full Legislature as part of the budget package by June 15. Legislators must then negotiate a final state budget with the governor and pass it by June 30.

California’s teacher candidates have been required to take up to six tests to earn a credential, depending on what they plan to teach. The tests have been a major stumbling block for many, with nearly half of California’s potential teachers struggling to pass the standardized tests required to earn a credential, according to data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

In the past two years, the commission has convened workgroups and held numerous meetings to study how to best reform the testing process. The Covid-19 pandemic ramped up these efforts as testing centers closed, making it difficult to take the required tests.

In spring 2020 Newsom and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing began easing some rules for the required tests. Last June the governor gave teachers more time to complete all the requirements for a credential and more time to submit information missing from applications. The new budget proposes suspending test requirements another year if a credential candidate is unable to complete an assessment because of testing center closures or capacity limits.

The proposed changes to teacher testing are largely the same as those proposed last year in Assembly Bill 1982, which addressed the CBEST, and Assembly Bill 2485, which addressed the CSET. Both failed to pass before the end of the legislative session last year. The biggest difference between the budget proposal and last year’s bills is that the bills, meant to help teachers complete their credentials during the coronavirus pandemic, were set to end after three years. The new proposal has no sunset date.

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Diana Lambert

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