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“I’m just not a believer in the test situation”

Monday, Mar 18, 2019

* Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) was a public school teacher for almost 35 years. She’s not a fan of teacher testing and believes it’s contributing to the current teacher shortage

“So when I went to school, if you go to the early ’70s, my brother and several of my friends that are older — their college was paid for, because there was a severe teacher shortage. So they got free tuition all four years, if they promised to teach for, I don’t know, five or 10 years.

“So then by the time I came along, you know, in the later ’70s, then there was a stack a foot high of applications for one job. So almost everyone came out when I did had to either be an aide or a substitute for a year to get their foot in the door to try to get a job. So now if you look at the history, in order to try to weed it down, they kept adding one test after another after another,” she says. “And then they just, you know, they didn’t do anything with the salaries, and they messed with their pensions and their evaluations and their tenure and all that ’til we’re now we’re in a severe shortage, right?”

There’s certain qualities that teachers need to have that maybe we don’t have a test for, Scherer says.

“You need to have patience; you can’t test for that. You need to have compassion; you can’t test for that. You need to like kids,” she says. “I mean, some people just don’t really like being around children. You need to have a tolerance for things that little kids do, if you’re teaching little kids. Or if you’re going to teach high school, you’ve got to be able to relate to high school students, because high school teachers can’t always teach grade school and vice versa. It’s you know, it’s just whatever way God made you.

“I’m not saying you don’t have to know your academics and be able to teach the subject matter. But… I just, I’m just not a believer in the test situation.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

24 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:50 am:

    Scherer is right that teachers need qualities that cannot be objectively measured. It’s true of other jobs, too. Room for intangibles and other “soft skills” has been squeezed out of public hiring over the last decades, and as a result lots of public agencies are staffed by people who are just not the right fit for the job.


  2. - OneMan - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:55 am:

    “’m not saying you don’t have to know your academics and be able to teach the subject matter. But..”

    I would be interested in how you measure that first part then? How do you qualify that without testing, if you say interview for it, then you seem to be putting in the potential for bias (which is there in other ways already)?

    For example, nurses need patience and caring for sure, but I still think it makes sense for them to take their boards.


  3. - TinyDancer(FKASue) - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:56 am:

    Consistent on-going observation by a qualified impartial observer must to added to any teacher evaluation and given its proper weight (which is huge.)
    Any experienced educator recognizes great teaching (and conversely, awful or mediocre teaching) when he/she sees it.
    It’s a no-brainer.


  4. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:57 am:

    My wife and I both completed teacher education programs in the 90s. If one of the required tests is the only thing preventing someone from being a teacher, we probably don’t want them in the classroom.

    She has a point that there are qualities not accounted for in testing, but those are evaluated during coursework, observation, and student teaching. The testing is to make sure these future teachers can read, write, handle basic math, and no something about the subjects they will be teaching. You can’t rely on their grades alone unfortunately, too much grade inflation nowadays. We need testing as a quality check.


  5. - Thomas Paine - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:57 am:

    The New York Post did a good overview last year:

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/nypost.com/2018/02/14/why-americas-teacher-shortage-is-going-to-get-worse/amp/

    Some facts to keep in mind:

    1. The shortage is a national problem. 48 states have a teacher shortage.

    2. The main reason for the shortage is more professional opportunities for women. That’s a good thing.

    3. As more fields have opened up to women, salaries and more importantly work conditions have not evolved to attract and retain teachers.

    4. A growing number of students and research-driven demands for smaller classes have also contributed.

    Starting salaries are a big deal for getting kids to enter the teaching profession. But better work conditions, especially lack of teacher engagement in curriculum development and school management are big issues for retention.


  6. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 9:58 am:

    “know” instead of “no.”


  7. - supplied_demand - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:04 am:

    ==So they got free tuition all four years, if they promised to teach for, I don’t know, five or 10 years.==

    Could this help ease the pension crisis? If people only work as teachers for 5-10 years, they can’t accrue as much benefits.

    Has there ever been a large, statewide push to get recent retirees (60-70 year-olds) into teaching positions?


  8. - Cubs in '16 - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:05 am:

    ===those are evaluated during coursework, observation, and student teaching.===

    If this is true, how do you account for all of the teachers lacking in those intangibles? All three of my kids received a public school education and the majority of their teachers were good. But there were always one or two each year who had no business being in that field. They were mean, showed favoritism in the classroom, and/or were just disinterested.


  9. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:07 am:

    As the father of two teachers, who have passed teachers examination not just in Illinois but in 2 other states I believe the tests are not the problem. There are two issues for having competent teachers. First, do they possess the requisite subject area knowledge and related general knowledge. Second, do they have a personality that will allow them to be a good teacher. The first you can and should test for prior to teaching. We should know that our teachers possess the needed knowledge to instruct their students. The second can only be evaluated after a teacher has done teaching for at least a couple of years. That is why we wait to grant tenure. You want more teachers, pay more. The brightest kids tend to not go into teaching because they can make more doing other things. And I am not saying teachers are underpaid, just that in a competitive job market you have to up the ante.


  10. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:11 am:

    There has been creeping credentialism over the years. You need a credential to do things, even if the process of getting the credential adds little value. It’s like the Wizard of Oz handing out medals and diplomas.

    Sue Scherer is right about about the personality requirements for teaching. The worst could be weeded out through testing. But teachers need to be developed and managed like other people.


  11. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:12 am:

    Cubs in ‘16 - Maybe if we could get more candidates, the people you describe would have a harder time finding work?


  12. - Beleaugered Bandicoot - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:16 am:

    ===Has there ever been a large, statewide push to get recent retirees (60-70 year-olds) into teaching positions?===

    If there was only a short term need, that would be reasonable but this is certainly an area where we need young professionals making a career out of teaching.

    I have a degree and license in Career and Technical education but work in state government now. I took a job in the private sector after I received my license. The pay just wasn’t competitive in teaching although I did like working with high school students.

    Everyone always says “but you have summers off.” Well that doesn’t pay bills and there’s limited part time summer jobs that amount to much income.


  13. - lake county democrat - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:19 am:

    The tests are shockingly easy - I agree that lots of things go into being a good teacher, but the tests are fair measure of –minimal– competency.

    A better way to get more teachers is to streamline the certification process - it is ridiculously complicated for non-education majors to do a career change in terms of the specific coursework they need in their undergraduate background (not education courses: I mean things like people with masters degrees in science having to go to community college for an earth science course, or English majors lacking a “multicultural” class). Other states have full-blown alternative licensing programs, esp. for multilingual tutors. I don’t know if we have to go that route, but there’s definitely things we could do to simplify the process without sacrificing quality.


  14. - Wensicia - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:23 am:

    There may be certain qualities teachers need to have that aren’t tested, but this doesn’t mean testing of academic skills and subject matter is unnecessary. Student teaching and evaluation during tenure should prepare for and cover the untestable skills.


  15. - Viewpoint - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    If we want more teachers, I feel that Illinois needs to change perception of the profession. I know everyone says they respect teachers, but do they really?
    Three things that would help:
    1) Realize teachers are not responsible for Illinois Pension Problem.
    2) The rise of helicopter/bulldozer parents need to chill out.
    3) Instead of pay, give teachers better working conditions. More prep time, reduce class sizes, more time to collaborate with other teachers about best practices.


  16. - Cubs in '16 - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:28 am:

    @anonymous

    Agreed but my point is training programs need to do a better job of identifying education students who lack those intangibles before they get into the profession so they can make a better career choice. Focusing evaluations on the things that can be easily tested is a disservice to everyone.


  17. - Responsa - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    A friend recently retired from a suburban school district. She wanted to do a little substitute teaching in retirement to stay in the game and because she loves the kids. She’s inundated with requests from the various schools in her district while others apparently are not called often. The districts know who the good teachers are/were and who is reliable and competent. Competency testing does not seem like a bridge too far for teachers where subject matter is concerned. It seems like a necessary two pronged step, because I also agree with others here that there are recognizable intangibles –the absence of which might reasonably lead a career counselor to point a young person away from the teaching profession in the first place.


  18. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:48 am:

    The climate for teachers has to be addressed. My wife teaches middle school and even though they have both a security officer and a police officer in the building she still ends up going to the ER about once a year due to injuries sustained trying to break up a fight. One year a pregnant teacher was punched right in the stomach by a student.

    She sends emails to parents about grades but some of the parents don’t read the emails and she has even had a couple parents tell her to stop “bothering” them. When she gives out too many F’s, the principal scolds her for not emailing the parents.

    When the students act up, teachers are often over-ruled by the principal when they try to discipline the students. Students can be openly disrespectful with no consequences.


  19. - Peoria Teacher's Aide - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 10:56 am:

    I signed on to be a teacher’s aide August 2018 after an 8 year stint in marketing and sales roles after graduating Monmouth College with 2 degrees in Business and Econ.

    I took a giant pay cut in the process to see if education was something I wanted to pursue.

    After 8 months I can honestly say I spent 8 years in the wrong career field. There are however many valuable lessons learned from my 8 years as a business professional which I can pass onto high school kids getting ready to go to college or into a technical career field.

    Now with my sights set on getting the required alternative teaching credentials (which I knew before making the jump) I am looking at 2-3 MORE years in school for a job I know will pay around $40k/yr for at least the next decade.

    The monetary cost and sacrificed time associated with the alternative teacher certification and lack of professional level salary is a huge barrier to entry for a lot of already qualified individuals who might want to make a career switch but decide the benefit is not worth the cost.

    Hence the current teacher shortage situation.

    I am hoping the legislature listens to Rep. Scherer because she is absolutely right.


  20. - Chicagonk - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 11:35 am:

    I don’t really think the teacher shortage will last too long. There is a current wave of teacher retirements, but considering Illinois’ demographic challenges, I think that this will normalize in the near future.


  21. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 12:15 pm:

    =I don’t know if we have to go that route, but there’s definitely things we could do to simplify the process without sacrificing quality.=

    You cannot do it without a quality difference, at least initially.

    The tests are not an issue. They are not difficult I have taken a number of them over the course of my career.

    EdTPA- is a recent component that is creating some issues though. This is a process where the prospective teacher video tapes a lesson given during student teaching. I do not know the percentages but my anecdotal experience is that some people, who are quality prospects, are not passing this process. The real problem is the nearly complete lack of feedback which is the opposite of how we are supposed to teach.

    At the end of the day, people are not going to pay the rising cost of a college education for a profession that too often does not pay well and is not treated with respect. If you want a real solution then those things need to change. If not, stop talking about it.


  22. - Kyle Hillman - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 1:09 pm:

    Rep. Scherer is right. It is time we moved beyond the skills test not just for teachers but school support personnel. School Social Workers have a masters degree, and they too have to pass this test that has ZERO to do with social work.

    Rep. Smith has a bill that waves this requirement if you have a bathchlors degree - but it might be time to ask why are we requiring this at all.

    Where is the logic in this?


  23. - Responsa - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    ==School Social Workers have a masters degree, and they too have to pass this test that has ZERO to do with social work.==

    Huh? What are school social workers there for if not for performance of aspects of school related social work needed by students attending school–possibly related to teacher competence skills issues and curriculum mastery problems?


  24. - jimbo26 - Monday, Mar 18, 19 @ 3:43 pm:

    We need to pay teachers more if we want more teachers. When teachers income is not competitive with private sector jobs and we don’t respect teachers we will continue to have a shortage. A question for all who are posting: Would you suggest to your senior that they go to college to teach? Why not?


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