Gatekeeping Tests for Teachers Entering Profession Often Keep Teachers of Color Out of Profession

According to an opinion piece published by Education Week, standardized tests given to professionals looking to enter the teaching profession, “are designed to function as a gatekeeper of teacher quality, but important issues suggest it’s time to rethink their role in the profession.” I remember preparing for my CBEST two years ago; I had to polish my math skills in order to prove to the state of California that I could perform basic mathematical problem-solving skills—but, why did I need this? I was preparing myself to teach English, not math. Still, the state of California asked that I prove I have sufficient mathematical knowledge in order to give me the green light to teach English. My high school diploma was not enough. My university degree was not enough. I had to take a two hour test, and pay nearly $100 to prove my skill and worth. 

After paying for and taking my CBEST, I moved right on to paying $400 and taking my four-hour long CSET test. This test focused on my subject-area; I passed the test, but the experience leading up to the test was excruciating. It triggered all the negative memories I have of taking and failing multiple choice tests in high school. According to Education Week’s piece, “A recent report estimates that each year, the exams screen out approximately 8,600 of 16,900 aspiring teachers of color.” Nearly half of those people of color who aspire to become teachers get pushed out before even getting an opportunity to engage with the work. It makes little to no sense to me; how can a multiple choice test prove that an individual will be an effective teacher?

After over half a decade of time that I’ve devoted to teaching, it has become clear to me that subject-matter knowledge is a small portion of teaching when viewed in the grand scheme of it all. I spend more time building and strengthening relationships with students than I do compared to our discussions of gerunds, rhetorical appeals, and comma-splices. A state sponsored (and required) test cannot accurately determine which teachers will be good at the job. According to Education Weekly, “Effective teachers know the content they teach. But they also know how to build healthy relationships with students, work effectively under constraints, leverage community assets, and create learning experiences connected to students’ realities.” It is sad that potential educators of color—those people who are equipped with the skills to help our students achieve a deeper understanding of subject-matter by simply identifying with students—are not able to gain access to a classroom of their own as the result of a bogus multiple choice exam.

The CBEST and CSET have not, and I am confident that they will never help my teaching. They did not make me a better teacher. All they did was stress me out, and when I conquered them both, I decidedly forgot about the trauma that these tests produced for me. I was one of the few, lucky people of color who was able to navigate the system. I had my family’s support to beat the systematically designed barriers placed on people of color to prevent them from becoming teachers. We need systems in place that support other people of color all across the nation so that they too can take charge of a classroom and impact their students each day. The first, and most important step to achieve this is to recognize that these tests are in fact designed to weed out people of color. We cannot make any real progress without realizing this truth first. Once we can grapple with this reality, we can then move to more pragmatic tests that measure real-life effectiveness of teachers in the classroom. Then, and only then, will we begin to have a true impact on our broken education system.

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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