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Back to October Ed Reporter
Education Reporter
NUMBER 189 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS OCTOBER 2001

Failing Teachers Equal Failing Students
Sen. Cronin
IL Sen. Dan Cronin will hold hearings.
CHICAGO, IL - A statewide investigation of teacher competency by the Chicago Sun-Times found that 5,243 teachers currently teaching in Illinois public schools have failed at least one certification test. The newspaper analyzed the test scores of 67,000 teachers on both basic skills and subject matter tests taken since Illinois began teacher certification testing in 1988. Test data were available on only half the teachers, since those hired prior to 1988 may never have been required to take a test.

The state's biggest flunker was a teacher of learning-disabled students in Chicago who failed 24 of 25 teacher tests, including 12 of 12 tests on how to teach children with learning disabilities. Another teacher failed 19 of 19 tests, including 13 of 13 basic skills tests. One bilingual teacher flunked five of five basic skills tests and three of three elementary school subject matter tests. This teacher was working on a "transitional" bilingual certificate that waives certification testing in Illinois for up to eight years.

How tough is Illinois' basic skills test? According to some experts, it's so easy that an 8th- or 9th-grader should be able to pass it. Yet one of every 10 public school teachers in Chicago has flunked the test at least once. Most of these failing teachers teach in schools with the highest number of failing students, which supports national research indicating a strong link between weak teachers and failing students.


Studies Show Link 
A 1986 Texas study showed a significant correlation between low teacher test scores and low student test scores. A Tennessee study 10 years later found that elementary math students who were taught by low-scoring teachers for several years in a row ended up 50 percentile points behind their peers.

Other research shows that full certification also makes a difference. A 1997 study by the University of Texas found that students scored higher on state tests when taught by fully-licensed teachers. In 1999, researcher Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, who is the executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, reviewed teacher quality and student achievement. She found that teacher quality is "more strongly related to student achievement than class size, overall spending levels, [and] teacher salaries . . . ." Her research also showed that "the percentage of teachers with full certification and a major in the field is a more powerful predictor of student achievement than teachers' education levels (e.g., master's degrees)."


Hearings Scheduled 
After the Sun-Times analysis became public last month, state Sen. Daniel Cronin, chairman of the Illinois Senate Education Committee, called the findings "appalling" and announced plans to convene hearings in November to tackle the problem of failing teachers. Members of his committee will consider requiring that teachers be retested with a new, tougher basic skills tests introduced on Sept. 15. Also on the table are plans to give parents more information about teacher certification and to offer financial incentives to good teachers willing to teach in failing schools.

Many of Illinois' flunking teachers eventually passed their certification tests, but hundreds did not. Yet they remain in the classroom under a "Chicago-only loophole" which allows substitute teachers to teach indefinitely without passing any certification tests. Although other states call such waivers "emergency" or "temporary" permits, Illinois calls them "certificates."

"That's misleading and convoluted and it doesn't accurately reflect what people expect," Sen. Cronin told the Sun-Times. "We're learning that a certificate doesn't mean much [in Illinois]."


Root of Problem  
Some educators point to the education colleges as the source of the problem of failing teachers. "There has to be something wrong if you go to college and get B's and C's and then can't pass these exams," observed Superintendent Willie Davis of the Ford Heights School District near Chicago. Other critics say teacher training includes "too much theory and not enough practice, mediocre subject-area training and low admissions standards." It's a vicious cycle, they say: "Graduates of weak public high schools go to weak education colleges and then return, poorly prepared, to teach in the public schools."

With a lack of qualified teachers already plaguing California and growing shortages in many other states, parents and educators worry that testing requirements may be relaxed still further or waived altogether.


 
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