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Imagine being a prospective teacher and earning great grades in college and receiving strong letters of support for the start of your career, but a roadblock is preventing you from achieving your dream job.

Recent Eastern Illinois University graduates Audrey Kreke and Allison Kingery said it took them seven and eight attempts, respectively, to pass Illinois’ early childhood education exam, which candidates are required to pass with a score of 240 before they can officially teach young elementary students.

“I felt like the test questions were nothing that help you in the classroom, Kreke said. “I felt like every time I didn’t pass the test, I didn’t know what to go back to study.”

Both Kreke and Kingery said it was difficult to prepare for the exam.

“I did the practice test. I did multiple things online, even quizlets. Just anything to find resources to practice for it. I really don’t think any of it helped,” Kingery said.

Illinois State Board of Education records show only 47% of the 1,226 candidates who attempted the exam in 2022-23 passed on their first attempt. There were a total of 1,505 cumulative attempts during that same time period and just 62% of the candidates passed after multiple tries.

The cost of taking the exam multiple times is another source of frustration for candidates. Kingery and Kreke said they each spent around $1,000.

“It’s very hard to come up with close to $1,000 to pass this test, let alone paying for tuition and this cost of living overall,” Kingery said.

Kingery and Kreke persisted and are now working as classroom teachers. 

“Even with the struggles of the test, it’s definitely worth it,” Kingery. 

Still, they said other prospective educators they know are getting discouraged, due to the difficulty of the exam.

“Because I know there are a lot who are wanting and willing to be teachers, but they just can’t pass this test, so they are having to fall back on something else,” Kreke said.

Educator content exams are administered at regional offices of education.

“We’ve had many students leave here in tears over the years and it’s a horrible feeling,” said Dr. Kyle Thompson, regional superintendent of Regional Office of Education #11 in Charleston.  

Thompson said it took him five times to pass the exam earlier in his career. He said these days some candidates are leaving Illinois to get licensed.

“We need some major drastic changes into how licenses can be earned and how they can still be valid and maintain high expectations. Can a community college offer a program? Are a hundred multiple choice questions what we need to determine if you’re a good preschool teacher? These questions are all easy answers, but for some reason they take years and years to fix,” Thompson said.

Several states have stopped requiring teacher content exams as they realize the tests can be considered a barrier.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) said it works with colleges and universities to make sure educator prepation programs are aligned with the standards upon which content exam test items are developed and these standards are the same as what EPPs are required to use to develop their programs.

Still, ISBE said because of concerns about pass rates on the Early Childhood test, it has approved moving forward with an enhanced review and validation of the exam.

The review could result in a new passing score for the test.

ISBE also said it has also asked for a flex option for the test that offers an alternative assessment for candidates who are close to passing. Last year, ISBE approved its vendor to offer one free practice exam per candidate.

Additionally, ISBE said it has a preparation team which is in regular contact with colleges and universities with approved educator preparation programs. These programs, according to ISBE, are required to align their preparation to approved standards and the exams are aligned to these same standards. ISBE also said it supports programs to practice continuous improvement to ensure alignment and improve outcomes.

But some say changes are not happening soon enough.

“The whole system needs to be reevaluated and needs to happen quicker,” Thompson said. “The more people and the more groups and entities that demand the change, the faster change will happen and that’s been proven over time.”

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