The Irascible ProfessorSM


Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions -- it only guarantees equality of opportunity...  ...Irving Kristol.
 
Commentary of the Day - March 31, 2000: Can't Pass?  Blame the Test!:
 
If you want to be a public school teacher in California, you must pass the California Basic Education Skills Test (the CBEST).  The CBEST tests the reading, writing, critical thinking, and mathematical skills that would be expected of the typical tenth grade student.  The test is offered six times per year, and there is no limit on the number of times a student can repeat those sections of the test that he or she failed previously.

In the Irascible Professor's opinion, the CBEST is trivial.  Anyone with a college degree ought to be able to pass it.  Indeed, even though schools of education tend to attract many of the least competent students in our universities, nearly 85% of those who take the test eventually pass it.  Nevertheless, in the climate of "entitlement" that pervades the social fabric of the nation today, the CBEST has been challenged in court on the grounds that it discriminates against minority applicants.

It is a matter of record that minority applicants initially fail the test at higher rates than non-minority applicants.  The first time passage rate for whites is 70%, while it is only 60% for Asians, 47% for Latinos, and 37% for African-Americans.  There are some who argue that these figures alone are sufficient proof that the test is biased.  These include the Applied Research Center in Oakland, CA, which sponsors a project called ERASE (Expose Racism & Advance School Excellence).  However, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.  A host of other factors could, and probably do, account for the weaker performance of minority applicants on the test.

Both sides of the issue were argued before U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who ruled in 1996 that California could continue to require the CBEST for credential candidates.  Orrick noted that the test did have an adverse effect on minorities, but that the test measured essential job skills better than the alternatives.  Orrick's ruling was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Last July a three-judge panel upheld the CBEST by a 2 to 1 vote; however, a majority of the 9th Circuit judges voted recently to set aside the ruling of the three judge panel.  This appeal now will be argued before an 11-judge panel.

The IP hopes that this 11-judge panel will have the good sense to uphold the rulings of the lower courts.

The CBEST is a very low hurdle indeed.  It is dead easy.  Just about anyone with a college degree who can still fog a mirror ought to be able to pass it.  (If you don't believe this statement, just take a look at the sample questions for yourself.)  In fact the test that was the center of the court case was a dumbed-down version of the original one.  The geometry questions and most of the algebra questions had already been removed in response to earlier complaints, and the time allowed for completion of the various sections had been extended.

Here are two sample questions that should provide a flavor of how difficult (easy) the CBEST really is:
 

At a college, approximately 2 out of 5 seniors go on to attend graduate school. If there are 750 seniors at the college, how many would be expected to attend graduate school?

Keiko spent the day bird watching and counted 34 more birds in the morning than in the afternoon. If she counted a total of 76 birds, how many birds did she count in the afternoon?


The real question is whether or not the citizens of California have the right to demand even the most minimal level of competence of those who are permitted to teach in the public school classrooms.  As far as the IP is concerned they do.  It seems to him that  putting teachers in inner city classrooms who themselves can't read or write at the tenth grade level is far more racist than requiring prospective teachers to pass the CBEST.  What do you think?
 
 

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