California had a problem. Too many would-be teachers were unable to pass the CBEST or CSET exams to earn their credential.

The CBEST measures basic skills and the CSET ensures that teachers know the subjects they teach.

According to data from the state, about one-third of teacher candidates could not pass the tests.

Rather than improve the colleges that are supposed to prepare the teachers, what did California do?

You guessed it — the state simply dropped the exam requirement. Presto. Problem solved. That will fix the teacher shortage.

Except now they have a far greater problem — teachers who cannot even pass the notoriously simple CBEST will be teaching California children.

There’s been next to nothing in the news about this because the state credentialing commission quietly put out press release a couple of weeks ago.

The Fox affiliate in Oakland, KTVU,  picked up the story and I saw it online.

The spin from the state makes you dizzy: “This is a game-changer for those who have dreamt of becoming a teacher only to find their paths blocked when they couldn’t pass the Basic Skills or Subject Matter entrance exams,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Reads like satire, doesn’t it? Oh, how wonderful for those candidates whose dreams will come true!

Sorry, but what about the children who will be taught by teachers who — as the commission admits — do not have basic skills or cannot show mastery of their

own content?

It’s incredible.

As a retired teacher, I understand that there is more to teaching than taking tests. But you need at least basic knowledge and the ability to think.

According to numbers provided by the state, “Nearly 66 percent of the people who took the CBEST in 2019-20 passed it on the first try and 83 percent passed after multiple attempts.”

What you must understand is that the CBEST is a basic skills test, and they mean basic. I was stunned to learn that anyone failed it, much less one-third of first-timers.

I took the CBEST and CSET a decade ago and taught for nine years. Every teacher or teacher candidate I ever spoke with calls the CBEST easy, even “embarrassing” because it is so easy.

How can anyone get a college diploma and be unable to pass this test? Don’t take my word for it; look up “CBEST practice exams” and see for yourself.

I honestly thought it was elementary level, but a friend who used to grade the essays for the state told me it was supposed to be geared to the 10th-grade level.

Maybe 10th grade now is equal to sixth grade decades ago. But even so, why so low a bar as 10th grade?

The CBEST tests basic math, a little logic, reading and writing.

Here’s an example from a practice test I found:

“During a semester, a student received scores of 76, 80, 83, 71, 80, and 78 on six tests. What is the student’s average score for these six tests?”

Add six two-digit numbers and divide by six? Didn’t we do that in fourth grade? Oh, and it’s multiple choice.

Here’s another:

“Rob uses 1 box of cat food every 5 days to feed his cats. Approximately how many boxes of cat food does he use per month?”

Here’s one to test critical thinking skills:

“There will be softball practice every Saturday throughout the season with the following exceptions: (1) If it rains, softball practice will be canceled. (2) There is no softball practice on the third Saturday of the month.

“If it is Saturday but there is no softball practice, then it must be true that…”

Again, it’s multiple choice, and obviously it’s either raining or it’s the third Saturday of the month.

According to the state, “The CSET (subject matter test), which is actually a suite of tests, had a first-time passage rate of about 67 percent in 2019-20. About 81 percent of the teacher candidates who took the test multiple times passed.”

The state at least requires that, in absence of the CSET, candidates have a degree in their subject area to be able to teach that subject.

But what are those college degrees worth if we have graduates who cannot pass the CBEST?

The whole thing is frightening.

William P. Warford’s column appears every Friday and Sunday.

(2) comments


This article is oversimplification and extremely biased at its core! I don't know if I should laugh or explode with anger. If one was to do thorough research, before penning such a scathing--if not mocking--article, he would uncover the opposite. However, it's obvious that due diligence is no longer a prerequisite, and the "bar has been lowered" for journalist integrity as well.

First, if I wanted to be a teacher, I would be required to enroll in a credentialing program. I STILL have to pass at least 2 of the 3 CSET exams in order to even start clinicals! SO, there's that, but you neglected that "small" detail. A candidate in the program (only after being officially enrolled) can request for their college transcript to be reviewed. If and only if, the classes taken, qualify for subjects that the candidate would teach, the candidate would receive an exemption. If not, they'd STILL be required to take the CSET. The terminology and wording remains confusing for many people, the article's author included. But, for him, there should be more accountability and journalistic integrity.

Here's where the good part comes in--the part the writer neglected to mention because he was too busy being catawampus. Let's talk special education, Mr. former-educator-turned-journalist. I have worked in special education as a special education technician for the past 19 years while I pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management and a Master of Business Administration. I graduated Summa C'' Laude and Magna C'' Laude, respectively. I also passed the CBEST and the first part of the CSET. I'm curious what testing was around when the writer became an educator. Personally, I've worked with a few teachers who became teachers before the CSET, and they have absolutely NO business teaching. But, hey! *shrugs*

I will put things into perspective, where special education is concerned. To be credentialed as a special education specialist, you have to pass the multi-subject CSET, e.g., reading, language, literature, history, social science, science, mathematics, physical education, human development, and visual and performing arts. Are you serious! Really? In the past 19 years, I have never taught or have seen these subjects taught. If they have been, it has been at the most basic elementary level--not at the college level that the tests cover.

If I should've been given ANY exam, it should've been how to change the diaper for students ages 5 to 22 year sold. What to do when they're constipated, or how to step in and help them if someone is trying to scam them online for gift cards or credits. Or How to manage a wheelchair without getting hurt. Or how to tube-feed a student or change their catheter. Or how to defuse a situation or student behavior that is escalating and quickly.

I don't need to know how to explain how train A or train B arrived at the station before the other. I don't need to know why a+b=c, or how to find x or y. I took algebra, statistics, finance, and accounting in college and passed with an A or A-. I shouldn't have to pass the math portion of the CSET. Why? Because I AM NOT GOING TO TEACH COLLEGE MATH! I'm not going to teach history, science, or literature, for that matter, but I need to know how to tell a really good story or know how to keep their attention and make them laugh. So, the writer of this article can dispense with the sample exam questions, political undertones, or attitude. These CSET test cover college level+ questions, not elementary school level or special education.

I want to be a special education teacher; but, unlike the writer, I'll be perfectly honest here. I am horrible at math! There, I admit it! I failed the math portion by 3 or 4 points. Someone out there may be thinking--you should just retake it. Oh, but did you know that that exam costs YOU $99 every time you take it? Oh, but yeah! It does! Did I also mention that you really don't know what to study for? (Oh, did I just end my sentence with a preposition?) Yes, I did.

Basically, you have to research and hunt down study material on your own or buy "CSET for Dummies," "Cliffsnotes Multiple Subjects," or my personal favorite "The Princeton Review CSET." I studied every page in that book on math and science. When I got to the test center and sat down at the computer, only about 40% of what I was tested on was in "The Princeton Review CSET" book! That was $99 down the drain, plus the cost of the book, AND the months I spent studying.

If California is going to continue requiring the CSET, because just today, a college admissions counselor told me I still need to pass the CSET, they need to publish their on CSET multi-subject BOOK, not some online 10-page practice guide. I can pass tests if I'm armed with a textbook and notes; otherwise, I'm just punching the air. This article was absolutely infuriating, more than the credential process. I would suggest the writer INTERVIEW some people next time--teachers, aspiring teachers, or individuals who really want to teach and contribute to the education of students but struggle to find an extra $100 bill laying around.

P.S. If I missed some misspelled words or grammar issues, it's because I'm still upset with this article. I've already spent way too much time dignifying it with a response.


I am about to start my 30th year of teaching. I find this shocking! I did have one friend in college that could not pass the CBEST. She had text anxiety. It was also evident if you knew her that she would be an excellent lower elementary teacher. She persevered, and finally passed after several attempts. And now, she has been an amazing and well loved teacher for almost 30 years.

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