Community group argues new teacher entrance exam is bad for minorities

December 6, 2010

Hunter Clauss

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Some Chicago community activists are worried new benchmarks on the state's entrance exams for teachers unfairly affect minorities. Last year, the Illinois State Board of Education raised passing scores for the Basic Skills Test, which all college students have to take in order to get into a teacher-preparation program.

Students used to be able to squeak by with getting 35 percent of the math questions right. Now they have to get 75 percent of those questions right.

Katelyn Johnson, who's with the community group Action Now, says the new passing scores are keeping minority students out of teaching programs. She points to data from the first test with the new benchmarks given in September. It shows that three percent of black students passed, while 28 percent of white students passed. Hispanic students clocked in with seven percent, and Asian students with eight  percent.

"This test has been a barrier for African Americans and Latinos and people of color in general," Johnson said.

But Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said results from a second test given in October show improvements. Passing scores for black students inched up to 11 percent, Hispanic students climbed to 33 percent, white students increased to 49 percent, and Asian students topped off at 71 percent.

"We're optimistic," Fergus said. "We do believe that students can pass this test." 

Fergus points out that students can also retake the test four times, and that students receive report cards showing in which subject areas they failed.