The following story appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
If this is not a solid reason for Education reform, we do not know what is. Our children continue to suffer under the draconian system controlled by the unions and the legislators and boards that pander to their every whine. The understanding of history is crucial so that history does not repeat itself.
Illinois lowers required score on a key exam for teachers
History/social science exam was too tough, officials contend
By Stephanie Banchero
Tribune staff reporter
Published August 11, 2006
The Illinois State Board of Education voted Thursday to lower the passing score on the social science/history test that teachers must pass before receiving their licenses, saying that too many prospective teachers were failing the exam.
The board voted unanimously to drop the bar from 64 to 57, making it significantly easier for teacher candidates to pass. A score of 57 means the test taker answered 57 of 100 questions correctly, state officials said.
Under the old bar, only 56 percent of test takers would have passed the most recent social science/history exam, administered in June. Using the new lower standard, 82 percent will now pass.
The social science/history exam is taken by college students who hope to teach middle school or high school history.
"There were concerns about the test and the fact that the scores have been continually low," said Linda Jamali, who oversees teacher certification for the state board. "We have a process in place where we look at the test itself and ensure that everything is OK, that there is no bias. The group looked at all the evidence and decided to lower the score."
The board also voted to set at 30 the number of questions testees must get correct (out of 100) to pass a newly created special education licensing exam.
The votes come about seven years after state officials launched an aggressive effort to ratchet up requirements for becoming a classroom teacher.
In the late 1990s, Illinois had one of the most lax teacher certification systems in the nation. Prospective teachers had to graduate from an accredited teaching program and pass relatively simple basic skills and subject matter tests to get a license. They could renew it simply by paying an annual $4 fee.
But the previous board of education and state lawmakers began cranking up the demands. In 2000, the board scrapped the much-maligned 8th-grade-level basic skills test, replacing it with a college-sophomore-level licensing exam.
Now, prospective Illinois teachers must pass three tests before they can obtain a license. College students who want to enroll in an Illinois teacher college must pass the basic skills test first. They must then pass a specific subject matter test before they can work as a student teacher.
Finally, the state board has added a third exam, which measures knowledge of teaching methods.
Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business RoundTable, said the Thursday votes by the state board roll back the progress Illinois has made. "We are backsliding," said Mays, whose group has been active in teacher reform and student testing efforts. "Every survey you see, in terms of impacting kids' learning, the teacher is the most important factor. We should not be lowering the scores. We should be bumping them up and then putting the resources behind making sure folks can meet the higher standard."
State officials said the history test has long been one of the most troublesome for prospective teachers. "We've had a lot of calls on this and letters from people who simply cannot pass it," said Lori Gibler, a principal consultant with the state board.
Board member Ed Geppert, the former chief of staff for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the test is difficult for potential teachers because it's "extremely broad" and covers a range of subjects. "I think it would be very difficult to prepare someone academically for this exam," he said.
But board member David Fields suggested that the state's colleges of education might bear some of the fault. He suggested that colleges of education should be held to the same standard that elementary and high schools are held to under federal No Child Left Behind reforms.
"I would think that they would want to see a higher percentage of their students passing," he said.