(This is the second of a series in explaining the gigantic navigational headache of being a fully credentialed teacher in the Golden State. The first part of the series is found here.)
Now that you've got your undergraduate degree, what's next? Sit around and get scoffed at by the people who got their teaching credential with a BA in Education while watching those same scoffers take all the teaching jobs? No, of course not! You go and spend $300 on entrance exams!
Ok, I lied, the CBEST and CSET are not exactly "entrance exams," but you do need to prove you have/are going to take them - which is different from actually passing them. I believe most credential programs allow you in without necessarily having passed them, but they definitely won't let you go further than half-way through the program without clearing this hoop.
CBEST stands for California Basic Educational Skills Test. And it is what the name implies. Pretty basic; I would say the math is about a 7th grade level. Most people pass this without much grief. People generally take this one first because it's easier. And also, you can start earning a substitute teaching pay when you pass this. Hey, school is not cheap.
CSET stands for California Subject Examinations for Teachers. If you are getting a Single Subject credential (for high school teachers), you may not even need to take this because your undergraduate degree may have already fulfilled this requirement. Depending on the courses you took of course. See a credential analyst on this. All colleges with a teaching preparation program will have one and will help you for free if they know you are applying to their school; or go to your alma mater career center.
If you, like me, intend to teach K-6 (or 7/8 self-contained classrooms, which are rather rare nowadays) then you must take the Multiple Subject (MS) CSET. All three subtests. Each of which costs $70.
And now we arrive at my second lie. It isn't exactly $300. Most people will probably spend $251 taking the MS CSET and CBEST. Assuming you pass all of them the first go-around.
The CSET is the biggie out of the two. For the MS CSET, you'll have these topics:
- Reading, Language, and Literature
- History and Social Science
- Physical Education
- Human Development
- Visual and Performing Arts
It's not just about knowing the material either (like the CBEST is). It's also about knowing how to teach children these subjects, anticipating their academic needs, assessing student work, and preparing the next steps in your teaching plan.
Yep, that's right. You are expected to have a foundational, working knowledge of how to teach before you even enter a credential program to learn how to teach. This is the mobius strip of teacher preparation at its finest.
The toughest part for me, on both the CBEST and CSET, was taking all the sections on one test date. Granted, I didn't HAVE to do this. But I also didn't want to give up more Saturdays than necessary. The catch is that if you don't pass, you'll have to re-take them. And also re-pay the test fees. Thankfully, I passed both on my first attempts.
All of this is done to show subject matter competency (and imo, your potential as a teacher too, but they don't explicitly say that in the informational brochures), which was famously brought into play with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. California has been doing this for some time before NCLB though. Unfortunately, our schools are still not that hot.