by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - Nov. 6, 2000: Can't Pass? Blame the Test! Revisited.
A few months ago the Irascible Professor commented on attempts by some minority group representatives to have the federal courts declare that the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) violated equal opportunity laws because the first-time failure rate was significantly higher for minority-group members than for whites. This past week the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals, which arguably is the most liberal of the federal appeals courts, upheld the ruling of a lower federal court, which earlier had turned down these requests. This is a victory for common sense in the realm of standards for entry into the teaching profession in our view.
As we noted in our previous article, California already already has modified the CBEST to reduce cultural bias, and it has reduced the difficulty of the test to the point where most bright eighth graders should be able to pass it. In addition, there are numerous CBEST preparation courses available to help prospective teachers improve their readiness for the exam; and, students can take the test as many times as they want. The CBEST is exactly what it says it is. It is a test of basic educational skills. In order to pass it one needs little more than to be able to read the English language with a modicum of understanding, and to be able to work a few very elementary mathematics problems.
The Irascible Professor is sympathetic to the view that the teaching profession here in California should reflect the diversity of this great state. It is important for our students to have teachers who are sensitive to our rich mosaic of cultural influences. However it also is important to have teachers who are competent, who understand the subjects that they teach, and who have acquired the necessary skills to help their students learn those basic subjects. Our students need role models who not only reflect the ethnic diversity of our state, but who also inspire students to succeed by challenging to extend their reach.
Lawyers for the state, in their appellate brief, argued that the elimination of the CBEST would help to perpetuate a system of institutional failure for minority children. The IP is in complete agreement with this viewpoint. To argue otherwise would be to support a subtle kind of "soft" racism. It assumes that minority applicants for teaching credentials are not up to the minimal standards set by the exam.
The IP does agree with some of the arguments put forth by the appellants. Namely, that passing the CBEST does not guarantee that a person will be a good teacher. However, that is not the intent of the test. Rather, requiring the CBEST is an attempt to guarantee that candidates for a teaching credential in California possess basic literacy and numeracy skills. Should we put anyone in front of a class who cannot meet that standard?
One hopes that the action of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will put an end to the attacks on the CBEST, and that attention now will focus on how to improve the skills of all applicants for teaching credentials. A substantial amount of money has been spent on pursuing this case. The money would have been better spent helping minority teachers develop their skills so that they could pass the test!
© 2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.