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Illinois lawmakers are considering two bills that, if passed, would update the existing teacher certification process that has been the source of concern for prospective educators as the state struggles to hire and maintain teachers.

Teaching candidates must achieve a passing score on a state educator content exam to earn their licensure. But a West40 analysis of public records shows low passing ratios on certain exams, including Mathematics, Early Childhood Education, and Elementary Education (Grades 1-6), for examinees on their first attempt. The results only slightly improve after cumulative attempts.

New and hopeful teachers have described the difficulty of preparing for the exams and questions that do not appear to be relevant to what they expect to teach in a classroom.

“I have a lot of anxiety toward the content test,” said Jackie Demler, a prospective elementary teacher from the Macomb area. “Don’t take the test away. There needs to be some kind of accountability for a test, but what can we do to change it?”

State Rep. Sue Scherer of Decatur recently introduced House Bill 5057, which would establish a content area test for applicants seeking a state license to teach grades kindergarten through 8 while creating specialty content area tests in math, music and physical education for applicants seeking endorsements in those areas.

“One thing my bill does is it says if you’re gonna teach first grade, you don’t have to take a test on college algebra and college statistics,” Scherer said. “We have to figure out what a person needs to be a good teacher and that’s all that should be required. But that should be required and there’s a fine line in there and we’ve got to find it because this country is in serious trouble if we don’t do something about this.

House bill 5393, sponsored by State Rep. Rita Mayfield of Waukegan, would create a two year grace period for content exams.

“We’ve all seen how schools across Illinois are struggling to keep teaching positions filled,” Mayfield said. “Having teachers in our kids’ classrooms is critical to the future of our economy and communities. Which is why it’s time to move away from outdated methods of teacher certification which have become ineffective precisely when we can’t afford it.”

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