Original story at: Chicago Sun Times
David Sadler For Congress 12th CD/Illinois

Want to teach? Then pass test
Chicago Sun Times
February 6, 2002

Raising the ante in the fight to improve teacher quality, the State Board of Higher Education recommended on Tuesday that prospective teachers must pass a subject-area test before student-teaching. This came despite serious reservations by deans of some Illinois colleges of education.

Director Keith Sanders also wants to push the State Board of Education to limit the number of times would-be teachers can take that exam or a test of Basic Skills, a proposal guaranteed to ignite sparks if it makes it to the state Legislature.

In making these recommendations, the board cited the Chicago Sun-Times' fall series, " Failing Teachers, " extensively.

No tenure means low pay, few benefits BY SUSAN DODGE HIGHER EDUCATION REPORTER Non-tenured faculty are underpaid, get few if any benefits and rarely have the chance for promotion or tenure, according to a parade of faculty who spoke before the Illinois Board of Higher Education Tuesday. The faculty ripped a report by the state board which concluded that most non-tenured faculty are happy with their jobs and perform them more for the love of teaching than for the money. " I have to be constantly looking for employment, and I'm usually looking for two or three jobs at a time, none of which offer health insurance, " said Jocelyn Graf, a non-tenured faculty member who teaches English to speakers of other languages at several area colleges and universities. Non-tenured faculty make up nearly half of all faculty at public universities and colleges in Illinois. Many adjunct faculty make $2,000 per class or less, professors said.

" The Sun-Times exposed problems in teacher preparation and certification that need to be repaired, " board spokesman Don Sevener said in comments to the board at DePaul University's Student Center in Lincoln Park.

The Sun-Times found that nearly 8 percent of all teachers working last year failed one or more competence tests, including a ninth-grade test of Basic Skills and one of 53 subject-area tests. Students in the lowest-scoring, highest-minority, highest-poverty schools were roughly five times more likely to have a teacher who flunked at least one exam, the Sun-Times found.

Sevener said the series underscored strengths of the state's teacher preparation programs but also highlighted gaps that permit poorly qualified teachers to work and allow schools to graduate teachers who stumble on the ninth-grade Basic Skills test.

Of the 2,428 educators working last year who failed the Basic Skills test at least once, about 45 percent graduated from a teacher training program in Illinois, the state found in analysis mirroring the Sun-Times'.

The state already has taken steps to improve, including beefing up the Basic Skills test and encouraging schools of education to use it as an entrance requirement, which most now do. In January, the State Board of Education also began allowing schools to use a subject test as a graduation requirement, which some schools are starting to do.

But the Board of Higher Education wants these changes to be permanent and universal. Sanders plans to push to make them law.

Several college of education deans aren't happy about it. Nan Giblin, president of the Illinois Association of Deans of Public Colleges of Education, supports requiring the subject tests for graduation, but says logistics make it difficult to require the tests before student-teaching.

The tests aren't offered often enough; they haven't been updated to meet new, tougher state standards, and some students may not finish all their coursework before student-teaching, Giblin and others said.

" Throughout the state, student needs vary and for this reason, we would appreciate retaining the option of when to require passage of the subject test, " Giblin told the board. She is also dean of Northeastern Illinois University's education college. " We do not feel that legislation is required. " Sanders said the logistical concerns are legitimate and said he wants to work to address them. But he and Hazel Loucks, Gov. Ryan's deputy governor for education, are adamant about making this change permanent. Loucks has been working with state education leaders on teacher quality since 1999.

" I'm a friend of the deans, but I don't think they appreciate the great urgency felt by the public and Legislature " on this issue, Sanders said.

Sanders also plans to push several ideas floated in the Sun-Times series and aired before the Senate Education Committee in recent hearings prompted by the series. These include: limiting the number of test attempts; making a teacher's number of failures available to principals or superintendents, and reducing the state's reliance on less than fully certified teachers.

" How many times should you be allowed to take a test and fail? " Sanders asked. " Not 18 times, as one did. " State Board of Education official Frank Llano said the agency is considering that idea, but says in Illinois' standards-based system, " the number of times [it takes to pass a test] is less important than acquiring the skills to pass the test. " " There needs to be different approaches to helping people, " said Llano, the State Board of Education's manager for teaching and learning. " One may be a limit, but as we say that, we also have to be able to provide enough support for them [to pass]. "