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Assessment Review of CBEST

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California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) is a standardized test that was established in 1983 by CTC (Commission on teacher Credentialising) to test English proficiency for teachers, administrators and school practitioners wishing for accreditation to teach in public schools in California and Oregon.  The test is administered by NES (National Evaluation System Inc) which is legally mandated to do the exercise. CBEST development is done state superintendent of public instruction, and advisory board comprising California classroom educators and CTC (Commission on Teachers Credentialising). They are mandated to determine the skills to be tested, relevance of skills of the specified skill areas, validity study based on fairness, accuracy, job relevance and clarity of each test item and field testing. The regulating bodies also conduct standard setting studies, bias review and determination of passing score (CBEST, 2013).

Test description

This is test is done in 4hours and include three sections. Those who fail the test are exempted from serving in public education institutions. The test does not measure the educator’s ability to teach the skills tested in the CBEST. The sections include;

Reading sections; This sections tests critical analysis skills, comprehension skills, evaluation skills and research skills.  The section comprise 50 multiple questions  related to a particular passages, tables or graphs such that no outside knowledge is required to answer the questions.

Mathematical skills include estimation, computation, statistical principles and problem solving, measurement and numerical and graphical relationships.  The test comprises 50-multiple choice questions requiring the educator to solve mathematical problems.

Writing sections; Writing section comprises two essay topics to be done within one hour. The aim is to assess educator’s ability to write effectively by analyzing a given situation and giving a specified personal experience. Each essay is done within 30 minutes and helps employers assess educator’s ability to organize ideas in within a short time.

1.  Context, and rationale for developing or using the test

CTC developed CBEST to ensure that educators meet California education code and also to fulfill California laws regarding credentializing and employment. The state of California and Oregon requires teachers and school practitioners not only to have documented evidence of being knowledgeable on their subjects of specialization but also exhibit a high level of skills that are vital for flourishing as an educator. CBEST does not replace other credentials of subject matter knowledge, practice teaching and professional preparation applicable to the issuance of credentials. CBEST is a criterion that allows prospective educators to adequately demonstrate these skills to their employers. It is a way of ensuring educators’ proficiency is good enough and they deserve teaching or service credentials (CBEST, 2013).

Not everyone is required to take CBEST to be able to serve in California and Oregon education system. The test is applicable to those applying for service or teaching credentials for the first time, those who have not been in education provision services for 39 months before a new job and those applying CCTC teacher-preparation program or service credential program. Those exempted from the test include adults’ instructor in apprenticeship programs, teachers in a subject not requiring bachelor’s degree, student-teachers, educational specialists i.e. teachers for the deaf, health service providers and children centers teachers.

For those obligated to take CBEST, all three sections have to be passed irrespective of the number of times the test is taken. The passing mark is 41 for each section and a 123 minimum total score for the three sections. The test is offered once every two months at different places in California and Oregon. Through the test the employer collects information on how the educator would perform in an actual condition. The information extraction is distributed in all the three sections.

2. The argument

This is an Assessment use Argument (AUA) for CBEST and their warrants, rebuttal and backing starting from 4th claim to 1st claim.

Claim 4: Assessment reports (consistency)

According to AUA, claim 4 states that assessment records are consistent across different assessment tasks, different aspects of the assessment procedure, and across different group of test takers. The assessment record in this review is CBEST scores and the test takers are the potential educators (Bachman & Palmer, 2010). The warrants supporting claim 4 for CBEST and their backing are explained below.

Consistency warrant 1: CBEST task characteristics are consistent across different assessments.

Backing: According to CBEST (20130, the three section test on topics that are familiar to the educators. In reading part, the answer to the questions are in the passage while for writing part the educator are not expected to demonstrate any specialized knowledge. The tests contain written and graphical inputs. Instructions for each section are provided to test takers in print. Instructions in section 1 and 2 are consistent in that each comprises 50-multiple choice questions. Besides, although the test takes place every two months, the framework and base instructions are similar for all sections in all tests. All three sections are given equal time duration although the test taker can chose where to spend more time. Also, same credential is administered to those who pass.

Consistency warrant 2: Administrative procedures are followed consistently for all test takers ether in California or Oregon.

Backing: There are universal rules set by CTC regarding CBEST administration. NTC selects the most appropriate center to administer the test. However, test center rules have to be observed. These rules are communicated to the test takers when they register. According to CBEST, results are voided if a test taker is caught in possession or use of prohibited materials during test administration. Teachers receive exam administrative manuals before administering exams.

Consistency warranty 3: CBEST scoring criteria and procedure are well specified and are adhered to.

Backing: Test takers are well informed of the score distribution in each section. For instance in the reading section, 40% of the section covers critical analysis and evaluation while 60% covers comprehension and research part. Similarly, in the mathematics section, 30% covers estimation, measurement and statistical principals, 35% covers computation and problem solving while 35% covers numerical and graphical interpretation. In the writing section, each essay carries 50%.

Consistency warrant 4: CBEST raters are satisfied

Backing: There is no evidence to show CBEST examiners attend any form of training. However, CBEST is administered by CTC which is a legally acknowledged body obligated with administering the tests

Consistency warrant 5: Raters are trained to avoid bias for or against different groups of test takers.

Backing: More than often, CBEST has been accused of being discriminative. No document shows that NIST or CTC raters undergo training to avoid bias for or against certain groups of test takers. Individual teacher’s bias has been found to affect scoring and is posing a threat to the consistency of fairness of the scoring process and reports. According to ‘fair test’ report CBEST have barred numerous non-white teachers in California from working with public schools students. The pass rate is 80% for white, 35% for African-American, 53% for Asians and 49% for Latinos. This show the raters are highly biased.

Claim 3: interpretations

AUA claim 3 states that “the interpretation made about the ability to be assessed are meaningful with respect to a general theory of language ability or a particular learning syllabus impartial to all group of test akers, generalizable to the target language use (TLU) domain in which the decisions are made to be and relevant and sufficient to the decision to be made” (Bachman & Palmer, 2010).

Meaningfulness warrant 1.The conceptual definition of the CBEST construct is based on California legislations.

Backing: According to CBEST, the test was developed by CTC to fulfill California legislation on credentialising and employment and ensure teachers meet California education code (code 44254). 1983 legislation amendment required school practitioners such as administrators and teachers to demonstrate proficiency in English. Proficiency in English as a standard was defined in terms of passing three language skills writing, reading and mathematics. No document explicitly defines CBEST’s construct.

Meaningfulness warrant 2: The operational definition clearly  specifies the conditions under which CBEST  elicit performance from which we can make inferences about educators’ English proficiency.

Backing: the conditions of testing and scoring are clearly stipulated in CBEST three sections.. The educator is expected to pass the writing, reading and mathematics test for them to be awarded English proficiency credentials. This operational definition of the construct stipulates the conditions under which language performance is elicited. Besides, the text characteristic of setting, the input, the assessment rubric, expected response  and relationship between the input and expected outcome are all defined by NTC administrators. The bodies that develop CBEST are required by law to provide clear rationale behind for testing each of the three sections.

Meaningfulness warrant 4: CBEST assessment tasks engage test takers English proficiency as defined by California and Oregon education standards.

Backing: CBEST is done to ensure specific learning performance and indicators are met by California and Oregon education system. It is for the benefit of both test takers and other stakeholders. According to CBEST website, test administrators have made effort to ensure the test sections match particular learning standards.  CBEST also examines aspects that are not included in the total score. However, according to FairTest (2013) there have been complaints that CBEST sections do not meet performance indicators especially related to skills that are not measured in the standardized test. CBEST administrators were forced by court to modify math section when it was ruled out that 60% of the math section is not job related. This rebuttal to the claim is largely discussed in California and Oregon education system


According to AUA, “it is not enough that the interpretations be meaningful; they must also be impartial to all the test takers. An interpretation is impartial if all test takers are treated without bias throughout all the assessment process”. Warrants about the impartiality are discussed below (Bachman & Palmer, 2010).

Impartiality warrant 1: CBEST tasks do not include content that may be offensive topically, culturally, or linguistically inappropriate to some takers.

Backing: NTC and affiliate bodies that develop CBEST have put great emphasis on test standardization. These include elimination of any tasks or topics that will have biased references to any particular group(s) of the test takers. NTC review test questions to ensure they are fair.

Impartiality warrant 2: Students are treated impartially during all aspects of the administration of the CBEST.

Backing: All new educators and other education practitioners are required to take the test throughout California and Orgon. The test is done once every two months in different areas deemed appropriate by NTC. This provides equal access for all wishing to take the assessment. The conditions of CBEST administration are familiar to the test takers because the same conditions are used for each and every test in terms of test format, content and administrative procedures.

Impartiality warrant 3: Interpretation of the ability to be assessed is comparable across different groups of test takers.

Backing: According to ‘FareTest” CBEST have failed to ensure free and fair scoring scheme for test takers from different groups. The raters have been accused of favoring white people and intentionally giving low score rate to African-American, Asian and Latinos. According to Judge Orrick who presided a case against CBEST’s bias, “each year, an average of 1517 Latinos, 1312 African- American, and 504 Asians fail the CBEST for the first time and are blocked in their access to certified employment”.  Although equal chances are given to people to take the test, bias is rampant in scoring criteria.


Interpretations are required to be generalizable to the TLU (Bachman & Palmer, 2010). For CBEST, the warrants are discussed below.

Generalizability warrant 1: The characteristics of the CBEST assessment tasks correspond closely to those of the language instructional domain used in everyday life.

Backing: CBEST test basic reading, mathematics and writing skills found to be important for the job of an educator. Test sampler reveal that assessment uses topics or activities that the test takers might encounter on a daily bases. For instance in the writing assessment, the test taker is required to describe a given situation most of which are education related and on the second part the test taker is required to write a personal experience. In addition, the task types (for example  writing, reading and mathematics), type response formant (for example, multiple-choice question, short answers and extended response) are commonly used in language instructional domain.

Generalizabilty warrant 2: The criteria and procedure for evaluating the response to the CBEST tasks correspond closely to those that teachers and schools have identifies as important for assessing performance in classroom.

Backing: The evaluation and passing criteria for CBEST is that test taker has to pass all the tests. This criterion is used by teachers in daily classroom instructions to evaluate students. However, a broader range of criteria is used in classrooms.

Generalizabilty warrant 3: CBEST assessment tasks engage the same ability as required to perform tasks in the classrooms.

Backing:  Test items and tasks presented on the CBEST sampler indicate that test takers are likely to engage the same ability as required to perform in the education system. For instance in the writing sections, test takers are given a pre-writing question about either a situation or a personal experience. In the reading task, test takers are supposed to deduce answer from very short passages. These tasks require students to think critically and demonstrate their reasoning skills which are vital for successful performance in schools. Besides, students in classrooms are usually required to do academic writing tasks. Hence, the tasks on CBEST reflect some of those expected to be undertaken in the actual classrooms.

Generalizability warrant 4: The interpretation based on the CBEST, generalize to performance on tasks in the classrooms.

Backing: According to NTC, the assessment tasks engage the same ability as would be required in an actual classroom. Previous discussions also warrant this.


The interpretations about test taker’s English proficiency made on the basis of CBEST are relevant to the decision to exempt test takers from education domain in California and Oregon.

Backing: CBEST result provides a measure of task takers proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. This provides a platform for the employer to know the level of English proficiency of the potential employee and based on CBEST results make an informed decision on whether the potential educator is proficient enough to engage in meaningful classroom tasks. Since, CBEST does not test on how well the test takers can deliver their knowledge in classroom; there is no information on how different CBEST test takers perform in real classrooms after the test.


The assessment –based interpretation is required to provide sufficient information to make the required decision.

Sufficiency warrant 1: English proficiency as tested by CBEST provide sufficient information for determining that the individual can successfully and actively participate in mainstream classroom.

Backing: there is no evidence to support this claim because there is no follow up after test taker’s pass CBEST. However, it is assumed that proficiency in Basic English skills (reading, mathematics and writing) provide enough basis to conclude that the test taker is fully qualified as a teacher.

Claim 2: Decisions

According Bachman and Balmer (2010) AUA, claim 2 states that  “ the decision that are made on the basis of the assessment-based interpretations reflects relevant legal requirements and existing community values and are equitable for those stakeholders who are affected by the decision”. The decision to exempt some people from education services reflects relevant legal requirements and existing community values and is equitable for those stakeholders who are affected by the decision”. Warrants for value sensitivity and equitability are discussed below to support this claim.

Value sensitivity:

Value sensitivity warrant 1: The California educator code, CCTC (California commission on Teacher Credentialising), the senate bill 2042 passed in 1998 and the values of schools, district and state are carefully considered when deciding to exempt a test taker from education services based on CBEST scores.

Backing: CBEST was developed in 1983. Since then, several amendments have been made to ensure the assessment serves the purpose for which it was created. It was intended to ensure school practitioners meet education employment standards stipulate by California education legislations. Hence use of this assessment is very much in synchronization with the prevailing education laws in California and Oregon. Teachers’ qualification is vital in ensuring good education performance for the better of the society. Hence, test takers exemption from education services complies with the law and values of the larger community.   However, there has been bias complaint which means although exemption of basis of CBEST performance is a fair; CBEST does not offer test takers equal opportunities to pass the test.

Value sensitivity warrant 2: Cut scores are set as to minimize the chance that a student who is not ready to benefit from mainstream instructions is reclassified.

Backing: The lowest combined score determines the test taker’s placement along the proficiency bands. No potential educators and school practitioners are allowed in education services without meeting the cut scores hence warranting value sensitivity.


A decision made on the basis of the assessment must be equitable for those stake holders who are affected by the decision. Warrants include

Equitability warrant 1: Test takers, teachers, parents and other stakeholders are fully informed about how the decision will be made and whether decisions are actually made the way described to them.

Backing: CBEST website provides adequate information concerning its purpose and how CBEST administration is done until completion..

Equitability warrant 2: Test takers have equal opportunities to learn to acquire the ability to read, write in English as well as acquire basic mathematical skills.

Backing: Apart from the fact that CBEST does not replace requirements for other required professional credentials during which reading, writing and mathematical skills are acquired, there is no evidence to show that test takers have equal opportunities to learn and acquire English proficiency.

Equitability warrant 3: Students are classified according to cut scores and decision rules and not according to any other consideration.

Backing: CBEST is a legally instituted exam by which exam takers are exempted from education services. Although, classification is on bases of cut score, unfair score distribution between different groups constitutes a rebuttal.


According to AUA “consequences of using an assessment and of the decision that are made are beneficial to all stakeholders.” In this case, the relevant stakeholders of CBEST include potential educators, school practitioners, students, their parents, school principals, the district and the society at large (Bachman & Palmer, 2010).

Beneficence warrant 1: Test takers, students and schools, the district and society of California and Oregon benefit from CBEST.

Backing: If CBEST yield consistent scores and meaningful, impartial, generalizable, relevant and sufficient interpretation about test takers’ English proficiency then each stakeholders group will benefit from the assessment.

Beneficence warrant 2-5: CBEST scores are treated confidentially and are presented in a timely manner, in ways that are clear and understandable to test takers and other stakeholders and helps promote good instructional practice.

Backing: according to CBEST, only some of the stakeholders such as the test takers and school principals in which a test taker want recommendation and district superintendent are presented with CBEST Scores. It is not clear whether all the information is presented to the relevant stakeholders.

II. Adequacy with which available reports about the assessment or the assessment development project describe and address these points.

Not many CBEST reports have made to assess the development of CBEST. However, available reports suggest that CBEST is failing in its mandate to ensure standardization of education in California and Oregon. According to a report submitted by FairTest titled “The state of Teacher Education in California” CBEST laws have failed to improve academic standards, stand education opportunity and raise the quality of public schools and teacher education. The laws are obstructive to efforts by university faculties, classroom teachers, school districts and local communities to try and achieved education goals. Intensive government control is leading to curriculum and learning degradation as well as increase education inequalities (FairTest, 2013).

Concerned institutions have dealt with CBEST issues through courts of law. Apparently, John Affeldt has filed a petition on behave of over 40,000 past, present and future African-American, Asians and Latinos test takers who have or will be harmed by CBEST. The aim is to eliminate or modify the racially discriminatory test (FairTest, 2013).

Recent reports claim that the cut score set by CBEST is higher than that set by ETS (Education testing service).  According to the suit, children should be given equal opportunity to be taught by linguistically and culturally diverse teaching force. It predicts CBEST have blocked 10000-20000 qualified teachers from teaching public schools. They recommend that future tests be done in multiple ways so that test takers can adequately demonstrate their competencies (FairTest, 2013).

III conclusion

Although CBEST was formulated with best interest in the hearts of formulators, it is clear that it has become a platform of education inequalities . This calls for actions so that the bias surrounding CBEST is eliminated. Although the test measures basic English skills, most of which candidates acquire adequately in colleges and other education institutions, test users continue to score poorly with the pass rate varying between black Americas, Asians, Latinos and whites in a manner that tends to imply favoritism for whites. Hence, users should not be optimistic even when they are satisfied that they will handle the test as expected. However, adequate preparation is necessary.

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