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California is considering overhauling a test intended to measure whether prospective teachers are prepared to be effective reading instructors.

That’s because the test, known as the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA, is outdated, and there is no evidence that it contributes to more effective instruction. On top of that, although would-be teachers can take the test multiple times, it costs nearly $200 each time. That may discourage some from entering the profession at a time when the state is experiencing teacher shortages in several subject areas and in schools with many high-needs students.

A passing score on the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, meant to measure a teacher’s ability to teach reading, is required to get a credential to be an elementary school or special education instructor.

But the test hasn’t been revised since 2009 when it was aligned to the English Language Arts-English Language Development Framework put in place two years earlier to guide instruction in classrooms. Frameworks are blueprints for teachers and schools to use to implement state-adopted content standards in different subject areas.

When a new English Language Arts framework was adopted in 2014 the test was never revised to reflect the changes.

“In failing to align with the current standards and framework, the RICA does not reflect current research and instructional best practices in literacy,” said Mimi Miller, a professor from Chico State University, who is part of a literacy expert group convened by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to offer recommendations on the skills and knowledge prospective teachers need to teach reading and literacy.

There is no evidence that a person who passes the test is better at teaching reading than someone who fails, Miller said.

“We don’t know how many times folks had to take it and how much money was spent to get to the ultimate pass rate and we don’t know how many people we are losing,” said Rigel Spencer Massaro, senior staff attorney for Public Advocates.

About 33 percent of the teacher candidates who took the test between 2012 and 2017 failed the first time, although 91 percent passed the test after multiple attempts, according to the credentialing commission. There are no limits to the number of times the test can be taken, although a teacher candidate must wait 45 days before taking it again.

The failure rates are even higher for African-American and Latino teaching candidates: about 45 percent for first-time test takers. Eighty-six percent of Latinos and 85 percent of African-Americans passed the test after multiple attempts in the six-year time period.

“It’s really disturbing to see these low numbers, particularly when they are candidates of color,” said Rigel Spencer Massaro, senior staff attorney for Public Advocates, a civil rights law firm.

That’s because the test unnecessarily eliminates teachers who would contribute to building a teaching force that matches the diversity of the state, said Spencer Massaro, who spoke during the public comment session at a meeting of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing on April 11. “The state has a long way to go before our teachers reflect the diversity of California’s student population, and we know that all students benefit academically from having diverse teachers,” she said.

Spencer Massaro said she gets no comfort from the increased number of teachers of color who pass the test after multiple attempts. “We don’t know how many times folks had to take it and how much money was spent to get to the ultimate pass rate and we don’t know how many people we are losing,” she said.

Teaching candidates pay a $171 test registration fee each time they take the written examination.

The commission’s “literacy expert group” includes university faculty, staff from the California Department of Education and members of the California Teachers Association.

There are people in the expert group who think there needs to be a way to assess whether teachers are prepared to teach reading, but the majority of the group would like to see the test eliminated, said Michele McConnell, director of the online Masters of Education program at the University of San Diego. She also is a member of the group.

There are other tests required of California teacher candidates that assess their ability to teach reading, she said. Because McConnell doesn’t think legislators will vote to get rid of the test, she’s hoping it will be revised and that lawmakers will approve waivers to allow students to complete approved coursework on reading instruction in place of the test.

Nancy Brynelson, the co-director of the California State University Center for the Advancement of Reading, spoke on behalf of keeping the reading assessment at the April 11 commission meeting, although she acknowledged that aligning it to current state standards is long overdue.

“To rush forward to eliminate an examination in this political climate frankly, I think is ill-advised,” she said. “The option to allow coursework to satisfy these requirements is actually the best option and one we agree with. We do need to be clear what it is that goes into this coursework and how candidates will be prepared. We want to work in collaboration with all the constituents and I understand completely why there would be recommendations to eliminate RICA.”

Brynelson later explained that the political climate she cited was in reference to a recent series of articles on what teachers don’t know about the science of reading. “Bottom line is the articles say teacher prep isn’t doing its job,” she said. “We disagree. We think we are. For the state to eliminate this test out of hand, for a lot of very good reasons, it will invite criticism.”

In order to get their credential, teachers in training must pass at least three and as many as six tests, a struggle for many prospective teachers. About 40 percent give up because they fail to pass the required tests at various steps along the path to getting their credential, according to data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. For prospective math or science teachers, that number climbs to 50 percent.

“I’m almost on the verge of getting a new profession,” said Orange County substitute teacher Stevie Lawrence. “It makes me second guess my choice of being a teacher. It’s been hard.”

The low passage rate on the RICA and other tests is happening against the backdrop of a teacher shortage that is becoming more severe in many communities. The shortages have become especially acute since the 2014-15 school year in areas such as math, science and special education.

The Reading Instruction Competence Assessment consists of 70 multiple choice items, four essay questions and requires test takers to answer questions based on a case study of a student.

A Video Performance Examination is an alternative, although passage rates are considerably lower. Candidates must submit a video demonstrating them instructing an entire class, another showing small-group instruction and a third demonstrating individual instruction.

California could lose another special education teacher if Ryan Locklin doesn’t pass the reading instruction test in the next year. Locklin is a special education teacher at McKenney Intermediate School in Marysville, an hour north of Sacramento. Despite teaching the class for four years and overseeing the work of two teacher’s aides, he is still teaching on an intern credential because he can’t pass the test to earn his full credential.

“The kids are going to lose a great teacher,” Locklin said. “They are going to lose someone who truly cares about them and that test isn’t going to show all the other things I do for them.”

Locklin, 40, has taken the test six times.

“It’s really done a number on my self-confidence,” he said. Now, Locklin said he goes into the classroom questioning how well he is teaching his students. “I talk to people at work and they say I’m doing a great job. The test is really impacting my life.”

So, why is the test so difficult? Locklin and Orange County substitute teacher Stevie Lawrence both said they get tripped up on the multiple-choice section of the test because, they said, the answers are so similar that it’s difficult to determine which one is correct.

“That’s the problem,” Lawrence said. “Maybe if I’m teaching a certain way my best answer is this, but someone will teach it the other way.”

Lawrence, 28, has taken the test nearly every two months for the past year. He’s taken a nine-hour prep class at the cost of $300. He’s always close, scoring between 215 and 219 points of the 220 points required to pass.

“I’m almost on the verge of getting a new profession,” said Lawrence, who would like to teach middle school eventually. “It makes me second guess my choice of being a teacher. It’s been hard.”

McConnell agrees that the language in the multiple-choice section is confusing. She also said the essay questions are scored on writing skill, not content.

The test is more an assessment of a candidate’s test-taking skills than their ability to teach reading she said. Those who don’t get these skills in kindergarten through 12th grade struggle on the test, she said.

She also said the test is too broad, drawn from 22 pages of information outlining what teachers need to know to teach reading.

The commission, while taking no formal action, asked the working group of literacy experts to continue to work on revisions to the state’s Teaching Performance Expectations for reading and literacy and to bring back a draft. Teaching Performance Expectations are state guidelines that spell out the knowledge and skills California teachers are required to have before they earn their credential.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which directs the credentialing process in the state, is looking to reform the entire landscape of tests and assessments that teachers have to take to enter the profession. It has been considering the knowledge and skills teachers need to provide reading instruction and literacy development since October of 2016, when it held a study session focused on the teaching of reading and literacy in the era of the Common Core State Standards.

The commission is looking at its assessments to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers to individuals earning credentials while balancing its responsibility to ensure that all candidates have the knowledge and skills necessary to be effective teachers, said Teri Clark, director of the Professional Services Division of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Speakers at the April meeting urged the commission to make changes or to eliminate the test soon. Some expressed frustration at the length of time it was taking to make changes.

“Let’s not put this on the back burner anymore,” said Danette Brown of the California Teachers Association. “Let’s move forward.”

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  1. Laura Brown-Rufing 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This test should immediately be invalid unless it’s aligned to current state standards for teaching reading. The State should refund the test fees for all applicants.

  2. Jim Lerman 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    There is not a teacher shortage in the United States. There are more certified teachers (who are below retirement age) living in the US than the number of available teaching positions. What the US has is a shortage of teachers willing to teach in the schools we have. Every year, 15-20% teachers leave the profession and similar numbers of students drop out of school. If the mandatory attendance age were to decrease from 16, as … Read More

    There is not a teacher shortage in the United States. There are more certified teachers (who are below retirement age) living in the US than the number of available teaching positions.

    What the US has is a shortage of teachers willing to teach in the schools we have.

    Every year, 15-20% teachers leave the profession and similar numbers of students drop out of school. If the mandatory attendance age were to decrease from 16, as it is currently, to 14 or 15, the student drop out rate would easily increase to well over 33%. Something is driving our teachers and students away from our schools. We need to figure out what it is and fix it.

    Teaching is full of disincentives including poor administration and supervision, low salaries, inhospitable school climates, hostile politicians, consistent withdrawal of state financial support for educational programs and school operations, and inadequate preparation as well as poor continuing professional development for teachers. One needs only to look at the statewide teacher strikes that swept the nation in 2018 to realize that something is very seriously wrong.

    Tinkering with testing requirements for teachers will not solve the so-called problem of “teacher shortages.” This has been tried repeatedly ever since the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 and it has never worked.

    What needs to occur is a shift in the thinking of US leaders: away from blaming teachers and using student test scores as the only measure of educational quality, and toward addressing the questions of what it is the nation is doing (or not doing) that causes so many its teachers and students to drop out.

  3. Samantha Moore 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    What a ridiculous lede. The fact is that nearly 70% of the people taking RICA for the first time pass. Do potential attorneys blame the bar exam if they fail? Do potential MDs blame the boards if they fail? The blame falls on inadequate teacher preparation programs as well as the students themselves. If you have taken the test that many times and failed, maybe you aren’t cut out to teach reading?

  4. Lisa DeRoss 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    The real proof of our failure to adequately prepare teachers of reading isn’t the RICA. It’s the combination of the low rates on the practical TPA version of the reading instruction assessment and the student reading achievement data itself. The common denominator is poor teacher preparation. We simply mustn’t be afraid to say that our current models PD preservice education is insufficient for preparing elementary and special education teachers.

  5. Ann 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Proof positive that the problems in our system will endure. How about we stop testing for early signs of Diabetes or dumb down the Bar for attorneys (that is actually in the works in California for the exact same reason) – everyone cool if their pilots or doctors use their 'classroom work' before you entrust them with your life? It's not the test it's the instruction. Here is the sentence devoted to early reading instruction, … Read More

    Proof positive that the problems in our system will endure. How about we stop testing for early signs of Diabetes or dumb down the Bar for attorneys (that is actually in the works in California for the exact same reason) – everyone cool if their pilots or doctors use their ‘classroom work’ before you entrust them with your life?

    It’s not the test it’s the instruction. Here is the sentence devoted to early reading instruction, probably the most important predictor of student outcomes there is in the Teacher Performance Expectations, a 51-page document. “They understand the role of foundational reading skills assessment and instruction in early grades and are equipped to teach these skills effectively.”

  6. ann 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    It's clear that, unlike the premise of this article, that the 'problem' with RICA is not the test, but the so-called schools of education failing to prepare prospective teachers for the classroom. This is actually well known among educators, shown in research, and obviously apparent in educational outcomes of students, where it matters most. If Edsource chooses to be a mouthpiece for the education establishment most responsible for dismantling a once premier education system in … Read More

    It’s clear that, unlike the premise of this article, that the ‘problem’ with RICA is not the test, but the so-called schools of education failing to prepare prospective teachers for the classroom. This is actually well known among educators, shown in research, and obviously apparent in educational outcomes of students, where it matters most. If Edsource chooses to be a mouthpiece for the education establishment most responsible for dismantling a once premier education system in California, will any other journalists step up to provide reformers a platform to inform Californians on what can be in our schools?

  7. James P. Scanlan 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    What few people understand about the racial/ethnic impact of a test like this is that a less difficult test will commonly show smaller relative (percentage) racial/ethnic differences in pass rates, but larger relative racial/ethnic differences in failure rates, than the current test. One can even see the pattern in the data cited. The relative difference between minority and overall rates of passing the test on the first try are greater than the relative … Read More

    What few people understand about the racial/ethnic impact of a test like this is that a less difficult test will commonly show smaller relative (percentage) racial/ethnic differences in pass rates, but larger relative racial/ethnic differences in failure rates, than the current test. One can even see the pattern in the data cited. The relative difference between minority and overall rates of passing the test on the first try are greater than the relative difference between minority and overall rates of eventually passing; but the relative difference between minority and overall rates of failing the test on the first try are smaller than relative differences in never passing. Few understand this pattern, however. Probably fewer still understand that an easier test will cause minorities to make up both a higher proportion of those who pass the test and a higher proportion of those who fail the test than they currently do.
    See my “The Perils of Provocative Statistics,” Public Interest (Winter 1991) regarding a challenge to a Georgia teacher competency test that was premised on the mistaken belief that an easier test would cause African Americans to make up a smaller, rather than larger, proportion of persons disqualified. The issue is no better understood today than it was in 1991. If it was, neither the U.S. Department of Education nor others would think that restricting the use of restraints will tend to reduce, rather than increase, the proportion students with disabilities make up of restrained students, which is the premise of the Kerri K. v. California putative class action discussed in a May 20 EdSource article.

  8. Rosa Higgs 1 month ago1 month ago

    A test is an assessment of knowledge retained and applied. If knowledge is not taught, then it cannot be assessed equitably. California, in particular, was once #1 in student achievement, now it is #44, up from #47 of 50. Why? What happened three decades ago that continues to erode our achievement levels? How is it that my students, from 3rd grade to 1st year college, learn to read like a Ph.D. in … Read More

    A test is an assessment of knowledge retained and applied. If knowledge is not taught, then it cannot be assessed equitably.
    California, in particular, was once #1 in student achievement, now it is #44, up from #47 of 50.
    Why? What happened three decades ago that continues to erode our achievement levels? How is it that my students, from 3rd grade to 1st year college, learn to read like a Ph.D. in less than 40 hours – scientifically proven! How is it that now hundreds of California schools are consistently failing Black, Brown, Foster, Homeless, ESL, and Children Living in Poverty? How is it that too many schools are not getting their dollar’s worth of learning for every dollar spent, particularly with software?
    The solution to these challenges is simple. More teacher prep in phonics. Teachers should be taught: 1) The vowel sounds; 2) the five phonics rules of American English; 3) the two American English decoding/encoding skills; and 4) lots of verbal, auditory and written practice skills.
    Whole language, beyond the 3rd grade 1,000 sight words, is wholly inadequate to meet these challenges.
    Teach true phonics to aspiring teachers, then watch California’s academic performance, once again, take its place as the paragon of educatonal achievement for all children.
    Phonics instruction provides the most efficient and affordable way to achieve equitable outcomes our students deserve.

  9. Terry 1 month ago1 month ago

    Why aren't people getting it? The reason students don't pass the RICA is because they receive little if any instruction in the science of reading and how to effectively teach it. My daughter just completed her multiple subjects teaching credential but had no coursework in the science of reading and how to teach reading. Let alone any coursework in how to address reading problems or disabilities such as dyslexia. She will … Read More

    Why aren’t people getting it? The reason students don’t pass the RICA is because they receive little if any instruction in the science of reading and how to effectively teach it. My daughter just completed her multiple subjects teaching credential but had no coursework in the science of reading and how to teach reading. Let alone any coursework in how to address reading problems or disabilities such as dyslexia. She will take the RICA this summer and it’s her responsibility to pay for preparation classes and study for the RICA.

    Almost every major study on improving student learning and student achievement shows that increasing the competency for teachers is the way to go. Start by teaching them the science of reading and how to effectively teach reading. Stop lowering the standards for teachers! Increase standards for teaching, increase teacher competency, increase respect for teachers, and increase salary and benefits for teachers so that ultimately student achievement will increase!

  10. Spencer Joplin 1 month ago1 month ago

    We need the RICA to ensure highly qualified teachers. Without the RICA, we’ll be stuck with medium-qualified teachers.

  11. ZG 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you for posting this. Fortunately, I passed the RICA on the first try. I believe that because I have already been teaching reading intervention, I was aware of many of the strategies. However if a person has not been exposed to this, I could see how the test could prove to be difficult. Now, I can’t say the same for the CSET. It has been a struggle. I passed subset 1 and 3 but … Read More

    Thank you for posting this. Fortunately, I passed the RICA on the first try. I believe that because I have already been teaching reading intervention, I was aware of many of the strategies. However if a person has not been exposed to this, I could see how the test could prove to be difficult.

    Now, I can’t say the same for the CSET. It has been a struggle. I passed subset 1 and 3 but struggled with 2. Currently I’m working with Moderate/Severe and Severely Handicapped students. Since I have not passed it yet I will have to leave the classroom. This is sad because I love my students and the parents are pleased with their children’s progress. Now there will be another special education teacher position open. This has got to change! We are literally losing teachers. Thankfully my degree is acceptable for other companies in which I have gotten plenty of offers.

  12. Anes 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you for finally realizing the teacher prep courses don't align with the RICA. RICA is putting off many teachers and hurting our children.RICA=A Money Machine for Pearson. And a big negative to our children. The teacher prep courses and universities do their job to prep teachers to be successful. Finally victory is coming. We need jobs. Can CTC and Pearson too pay off our student loan? It will be a nice thing … Read More

    Thank you for finally realizing the teacher prep courses don’t align with the RICA. RICA is putting off many teachers and hurting our children.RICA=A Money Machine for Pearson. And a big negative to our children. The teacher prep courses and universities do their job to prep teachers to be successful. Finally victory is coming. We need jobs. Can CTC and Pearson too pay off our student loan? It will be a nice thing since it was the reason why teachers could not get jobs.

  13. Dr. Bill Conrad 1 month ago1 month ago

    It is hard for me to know whether I should laugh or cry after reading this article! Are there no psychometric data of validity and reliability of the test that can be shared? The Reading Instruction Monitoring Competence Assessment seems to be doing the job it was intended to do. It might be a good idea to look at the root cause problem which is the woeful colleges of education who … Read More

    It is hard for me to know whether I should laugh or cry after reading this article! Are there no psychometric data of validity and reliability of the test that can be shared? The Reading Instruction Monitoring Competence Assessment seems to be doing the job it was intended to do. It might be a good idea to look at the root cause problem which is the woeful colleges of education who recruit the least qualitifed and train them poorly in the science of teaching reading. Let’s keep the test and make it even more rigorous and demanding!

    Replies

    • ann 1 month ago1 month ago

      God help this state and its students. When the candidates can't pass the exam, throw it out! "....does not reflect current research and instructional best practices in literacy." By all means please share this new current research on reading instruction that is not reflected in RICA. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf "There are people in the expert group who think there needs to be a way to assess whether teachers are prepared to teach reading, but … Read More

      God help this state and its students. When the candidates can’t pass the exam, throw it out! “….does not reflect current research and instructional best practices in literacy.” By all means please share this new current research on reading instruction that is not reflected in RICA. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf “There are people in the expert group who think there needs to be a way to assess whether teachers are prepared to teach reading, but the majority of the group would like to see the test eliminated” Another way? Such as? The video alternative now available has an even worse pass rate. https://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Strengthening_Reading_Instruction_Databurst The ‘expert’ group? Click the link, read what they have come up with. It’s truly absurd, “Bottom line is the articles say teacher prep isn’t doing its job,” They obviously aren’t doing their job. Something we’ve known since at least 2006. https://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/nctq_reading_study_exec_summ.pdf Districts bring in outside consultants to teach their teachers to teach reading. This may be the article referred to which includes teachers’ reading instruction experience in Ed Schools. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2018/10/teacher_prep_programs_reading.html

    • Terry 1 month ago1 month ago

      Thank you for being brave enough to say this.