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Illinois Lawmakers Look to Overhaul Teacher Licensure Testing Requirements

Add Illinois lawmakers to the long list of people skeptical of standardized tests these days.

Citing a teacher shortage plaguing rural parts of the state, State Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from rural downstate Illinois, is co-sponsoring a bill to give teaching candidates a route into the classroom that bypasses some standardized tests. Righter cites a 2016 report from Teacher of Tomorrow, which found that Illinois' schools have 6,381unfilled teaching positions, as a call to action.

Currently, teacher-candidates must either pass the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP)/Basic Skills test or score at least a 22 on the ACT test or a 1110 on the SAT test. Senate Bill 1123 would waive those testing requirements for students who have at least a 3.0 GPA in core education curriculum classes.

"A student's body of work over the course of time at his or her university is a far better reflection of the student's aptitude compared to standardized tests," Righter said in a statement. "[S]ome students, including those who demonstrate a natural and obvious skill in connecting with children in a way that would make them excellent teachers, aren't the best standardized test-takers. Those tests shouldn't be the difference in allowing someone to achieve their career goal of teaching. This legislation addresses the teacher shortage throughout the state by recognizing the most important aspects of being a good teacher do not include mastering standardized tests."  

Many leaders at the state's teacher-preparation programs agree with Righter. 

"When we see those (students) who are excellent in classrooms and internships and just can't reach that test score, it's really heartbreaking," Christie Magoulias, director of the School of Education at Millikin University, told the Herald & Review. "I'm really heartened to see that this topic is alive and people are talking about this. I think the basic skills test is one of the barriers for some of our students."

But not everyone is on board. The Illinois State Board of Education has come out against the bill, the newspaper reports.

"A 3.0 GPA in one program does not correspond to the same mastery of skills as a 3.0 in a different program," board spokeswoman Jackie Matthews told the paper. "While ISBE supports eliminating barriers to entering the profession where possible, ISBE opposes lowering standards."

While the National Council on Teacher Quality shares the board's concerns, Elizabeth Ross, the organization's managing director of state policy, says there are ways to minimize downsides.

"These assessments provide important uniformity in the licensure process," said Ross. "But one way to help mitigate the variability of using GPAs is working with an independent auditor who could validate the rigor of each preparation program to make sure that a 3.2 at one program is comparable to a 3.2 at another one."

While teachers would still be required to pass content area tests for the subjects they will teach, Bill Curtin, an English and creative writing teacher at Carbondale Community High School in rural Southern Illinois and a Teach Plus Illinois teaching policy fellow, says SB 1123 will ultimately hurt students.

"While it is certainly true that teachers are needed, the shortage that exists is not due to excessive standards—the passing scores for qualification tests now are quite reasonable," Curtin, a National Board Certified Teacher, said in an email. "The shortage is due to a lack of funding to pay teachers a wage appropriate to their level of education. This proposal limits the GPA measurement to education classes—meaning [prospective teachers] do not need to demonstrate a broad knowledge base. This is critical when helping students see connections across subjects, or even within them. I can't teach Shakespeare well without explaining the history of the time period."

While state policy watchers say the Illinois bill is unique, there has been pervasive pushback against requiring prospective teachers to pass a battery of tests before entering the profession. Just last month the New York Board of Regents voted to stop requiring new teachers to pass the Academic Literacy Skills Test.

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