The test that future high school Latin teachers must take - and pass - before getting certification from the state of Illinois is too hard, a group of Latin instructors contends.
"The analogy we have for you is that the exam is like testing a junior in college at a graduate level," high school Latin teacher Laurie Jolicoeur told members of the Illinois State Board of Education on Thursday.
The test is supposed to determine whether someone meets "minimal qualifications," the standard the state sets, she said.
"We are looking for qualified teachers, but right now, the bar is set to not pass qualified teachers," she said later. "The bar is in the wrong place."
Prospective Latin teachers could wind up failing the certification exam in its existing form, or they might choose to skip the test for fear of failing it, Jolicoeur said.
Just four Illinois institutions have active teacher-training programs in Latin: Knox College in Galesburg, Monmouth College, Augustana College in Rock Island and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Thomas Sienkewicz, who teaches Latin at Monmouth College, has written to the State Board of Education about his concerns with the test.
"We are convinced that the test which has been written does not test entry-level knowledge of Latin," Sienkewicz said. "Even people with master's degrees in Latin would have difficulty with it."
Sienkewicz said one of his students plans to take the Latin certification test next year, and she cannot begin student teaching until she passes it.
Jolicoeur, who teaches at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, said she appeared at the ISBE meeting on behalf of the four colleges that train Latin teachers. She also represented the Illinois Classical Conference, which includes high school and college instructors, and an advisory committee to the State Board of Education.
"My students are upset that I'm here today because today is Rome's birthday, and our typical way of celebrating it is the traditional gladiatorial combat, where they research gladiators and then they act out the gladiatorial fights," Jolicoeur said. "But I said I was here for a good cause."
She urged the board to consider rewriting the test.
ISBE Chairman Jesse Ruiz asked board member David Fields, who chairs the board's Education Policy Planning Committee, to look into the matter.
Afterward, Jolicoeur said, "I'm encouraged that the conversation isn't closed."
Illinois, like the rest of the country, has a shortage of Latin teachers, she said. In some places, when a Latin teacher retires, that school's Latin program is eliminated. In other places, schools' Latin programs are growing so much that they need additional teachers.