Time to retire the tainted, unfair basic skills test for teachers

  • by:
  • Source: EdSource
  • 10/13/2023
One morning, some 20 years ago, I took an anonymous phone call that stunned me. Years had passed since our decadelong federal class action discrimination lawsuit against the CBEST had ended with only partial reforms in 2000. From its origins in 1982, the California Basic Educational Skills Test, which purports to measure the universal reading, writing and math skills needed to perform in all the varied public school jobs requiring credentials, has been controversial for deterring tens of thousands of educators of color from entering the public school workforce. The horrific first-time pass rates — 38% for Blacks; 49% for Latinos, and 53% Asians vs. 80% for whites — improved, but only modestly, after 1995 changes instigated by our lawsuit.

The caller had personal knowledge that a recently deceased former employee of the defendant Commission on Teacher Credentialing had examined the CBEST for her doctoral dissertation and concluded it was racially and culturally biased. The Commission suppressed the study, including when our lawsuit specifically requested such reports. Instead of producing it or making us and our judge aware of it, the commission’s lawyers quietly procured a protective order from a state judge to keep the study out of the federal case.

From its inception, the racial and cultural bias undergirding the CBEST — like the phantom study — has been suppressed, lurking, just beneath the surface. The sickening pass rates — rather than spurring reform — have been used to support the worst kind of circular reasoning: If it’s failing that many people, especially Black and brown people who’ve been subjected to inferior public education in California, the state’s lawyer repeatedly told the court, it must be working.

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