All About the CTEL Exam

The California Teachers of English Learners exam is designed to ensure that any teacher who is hired to teach English learners has the skills and knowledge needed to do so. Because of the growing number of non-English speaking citizens in this country, educators are facing a growing need for teachers who can work with English learners in a variety of settings: as English language development (ESL classroom program), specially designed academic instruction delivered in English (a sheltered classroom program), or content instruction delivered in the primary language (a bilingual classroom program).

How the Exam is Developed

The CTEL exam is composed of three subtests, which can be taken separately or altogether. The subtests are Language and Language Development, Assessment and Instruction, and Culture and Inclusion. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing says that each of these subtests is criterion referenced. That means that it tests the examinee’s knowledge and skills against a predetermined standard, not against other students’ abilities.

The CTEL was developed by California educators, teacher educators, and other content and assessment specialists. The material these educators used to develop the exam includes textbooks, California K–12 Student Academic Content Standards and curriculum frameworks, and CTC program standards.

Exam Format and Content

So now that you know how the test was developed, you will want to learn what is on the test. On the CTEL website you’ll find a study guide that provides you with a complete list of the material that the test covers. The CTEL Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) listed in the study guide provide the full list of domains, competencies, and descriptive statements that are the basis for the examination. You should plan to read the KSAs completely, and make sure you understand and are familiar with all of them.

The CTEL exam is comprised of a combination of multiple choice questions, essays, and constructed-response questions. In the multiple choice questions there will be one best answer to each question. The constructed response questions will present you with introductory material, and then give you an assignment related to that material. For example, you may be asked to compare the introductory material to another resource that is also presented in the question.

Number of Questions

Each subtest of the CTEL contains its own self-contained number of multiple choice and essay questions. The first subtest, Language and Language Development, covers two primary areas:

  1. language structure and use and
  2. first- and second-language development and their relationship to academic achievement. The Language and Language Development subtest is composed of 50 multiple choice questions and one essay question.

The Assessment and Instruction subtest covers the assessment of English learners, the foundations of English language and literacy development and content instruction, and approaches and methods for English language development and content instruction. You’ll have 60 multiple-choice questions and two essays to complete when you take this subtest.

The third subtest, on culture and inclusion, covers culture and cultural diversity and their relationship to academic achievement and culturally inclusive instruction. This subtest does not focus on any specific cultural group. The total number of questions in this subtest is 40 multiple-choice questions and one essay.
You should also be aware that all subtests may include some questions that will not count toward your test results. These questions are in development for future exams, and are placed on the test in order to collect information about how the questions will perform under actual testing conditions.
Although you don’t have to take all three subtests during the same session, you will need to pass them all in order to pass the entire CTEL exam and become credentialed. More information on how the test is scored is available on the CTEL website, and in another article titled Your Test Results available on this site.

How to Register for the CTEL Exam

If you are a teacher in California, and you’ve decided to pursue the opportunity of teaching English learners, you may need to apply for, take, and pass the CTEL exam. Passing this exam is just part of what you’ll need to accomplish in order to receive authorization from the state to teach English learners. Here are the details of how to register for the CTEL exam, and what you’ll need to have in place before you start the process.
Complete a training program

In California, since 2002, most teachers are required to take English learner training as part of their education and credentialing program. All teachers who are interested in teaching English learners, no matter the setting, must be trained and certified before they can teach this population of students, so if you began teaching prior to 2002, you will need to receive training and certification.

According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, if you haven’t already received English learner instruction as part of your teaching degree program, you will need to complete some kind of training in order to qualify to take the exam. The training can be in the form of an internship with a Commission-approved school (internship programs are offered at California State University, San Diego State University, the University of California eight locations, and other private colleges such as Loyola University and Pepperdine University), or through inservice or college coursework.

Registration Process Details

When you’re ready to apply to take the CTEL exam, you’ll have two options. You can apply online, or you can register by telephone. The telephone number and other important information for these two options are available on the website for the California Teacher of English Learner program. Phone registration is only available between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM Pacific time, Monday through Friday. It’s also a good idea if you plan to register online to check the online list of required information so you’re fully prepared to register. The registration application will ask for items such as your social security number and other information you may not have readily at hand. So make sure to check the website for a complete list of information needed before beginning the registration process. You should also allow plenty of time for registration. It can take up to thirty minutes to complete the entire form and provide all of the information required. When you are registering online, this also includes creating an online account. You also need to be prepared to pay for the exam at the time of application. So you should have your credit card information handy when registering. If you are taking all three subtests (CTEL 1: Language and Language Development, CTEL 2: Assessment and Instruction, and CTEL 3: Culture and Inclusion) the fee is $260.00. Or you can take each subtest individually, at a lower cost. There are also additional fees you should be aware of, such as a late registration fee of $30 and an emergency registration fee of $70.00

What happens Next

Once you’ve successfully registered for the exam, you will be assigned to take the test at a specific exam site. You will then be sent an admission ticket that will allow you entry to the test site on the day of the test. You will receive an admission ticket for each subtest you’ve registered to take. The admission ticket will contain your CTEL identification number, which you can use to access the unofficial results of the exam after you’ve taken it online. It will also list the test location, time, subtest, and date. If any of this information is incorrect, you need to notify the CTEL organization as soon as possible.

Why You Need the CTEL Designation

It is estimated that close to 15% of people living in the United States are non-English speaking residents, and that number is growing every year. There is a continuing and increasing need for teachers to work with students whose primary language is not English. In years past, there were no formal programs available to teach children and adults to speak English. Today, however, every state in the country has developed (CTEL) programs for working with this population, to teach them English and to integrate them into regular classrooms.

Teaching English learners requires new skills

Throughout the country, including the state of California, teachers who are interested in teaching English learners are required to complete special training programs and become certified to teach this group of students. Over the last several years, educational experts have come to recognize that teaching non-English speaking students requires different skills than many teachers have developed through traditional education programs at colleges and universities. This is because teaching children or adults who don’t speak English requires the use of different methods and an understanding on your part of the process of how a language is learned. Even if you’ve been teaching English to your students, teaching English learners to speak properly is much different from teaching native English speakers to read and write properly.

In California, since 2002, most teachers are required to receive English learner training as part of their education and credentialing program. All teachers who are interested in teaching English learners, no matter the setting, must be trained and certified before they can teach this population of students, so if you began teaching prior to 2002, you will need to receive training and certification.

An increasing number of opportunities

It is predicted that in the coming years, there will be more opportunities for teachers of English learners, in the state of California, in the country, and abroad. While not all positions abroad require the CTEL credential, most employers prefer candidates who do possess it. They know that in order to receive the credential, the teacher has received specialized training and has retained enough knowledge to be an effective teacher to these students.
These opportunities will be available on many levels, for children, college students, and adults both locally and outside the country. There will be a growing number of specialized programs in all kinds of schools for these students, and the demand for this type of teacher will mean that teachers who have earned certification will be well paid for their efforts.

Teaching programs

There are three types of certifications that are being used in the state of California to meet the needs of English learners. Teachers who are interested in working with this population may need to become certified in one or all of these programs, depending on if they speak a different language currently.

In order to teach English learners, teachers will need to possess certification in English language development (ESL classroom program), specially designed academic instruction delivered in English (a sheltered classroom program), or content instruction delivered in the primary language (a bilingual classroom program). Certifications that give teachers authorization to become part of these programs in the state of California include Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD), and Bilingual Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (BCLAD) certificates.

According to the state of California, requirements for the English learner authorization or Cross-cultural, Language and Academic Development (CLAD) Certificate may be satisfied by coursework completed through an approved California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) program, passing the appropriate approved examinations, or through a combination of exams and course work. The bilingual authorization may be earned in a similar manner through a combination of exams and course work.
If you’re interested in pursuing the opportunity to teach English learners, you will need a CTEL designation.

Study Guides and Material Available for the CTEL Exam

After you have registered for the California Teacher of English Learners exam (CTEL) you will need t prepare for it. Even if you have just completed training, it’s a good idea to spend time studying for the test so that everything you’ve learned remains fresh and easy to recall when you take the exam. There’s also the possibility that some material on the test was not covered in your educational program, or not as in-depth as you need. Another good reason to study for the exam is that it gets you used to the format and questions, which will improve your chances of passing. Here are some study tools and materials you can use to help you prepare for the CTEL exam.

CTEL Study Guide

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has developed and published study guides for all of their credentialing exams, including the CTEL exam. This study guide is the most important tool you can use to help you prepare for the exam. The study guide is available online and it contains five sections. The first section provides basic information such as how the test is structured and helpful tips and advice for preparing for the exam.
The second section contains a list of the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that the exam will be testing you on. This section provides a lot of detailed information about the subject areas that are covered on the exam. The Commission advises examinees to take the time to read through this section a few times, and make note of any area in which you feel you might need to improve on.

The last three sections are practice questions that you can use to help you study and prepare; each section contains sample test questions representing each subtest area. Section 3 covers Language and Language Development, Section 4 covers Assessment and Instruction, and Section 5 covers Culture and Inclusion. Every person who plans to take this exam needs to use this study guide as his or her primary preparation tool.

Other Study Guides and Tools

In addition to the study guide that the Commission provides, there are companies that have also developed and published study guides for the test. However, you need to be careful when choosing additional study guides. Not all of these guides will help you, and some can be costly. Before ordering any study guide, plan to get the input of others that you respect and who are knowledgeable of the CTEL exam. If you just completed an educational program, the program director or instructor can help you assess the study guides. You can also ask other teachers who completed and passed the exam which study guides they used for the exam.

The important thing is that you do choose at least two different study guides (in addition to the Commission guide) to help you prepare for the exam. Using just one guide can limit the depth and variety of material covered, and using more than two can become costly.

In addition to study guides, there are also other tools you can use. You can also find flashcard systems that can help you with remembering some of the terms and definitions you’ll need to know. Flashcard systems have been proven to aid with memorization tasks. While it shouldn’t serve as your sole tool, a flashcard system is a great complement to the study guide.

Also, consider forming a study group. If you have been part of an educational program you’ll already know several students in your area who are also preparing for the exam. Forming a study group means you must allot a certain number of hours each week to studying. Study groups can also hold you accountable for the material you’ve been assigned to cover.

In general, as with all the other important exams you’ve taken in the education profession, using a combination of study guides an tools will ensure that you feel truly prepared to take the CTEL exam.

Your Test Results

Once you’ve taken the California Teacher of English Learners (CTEL) exam, you’ll be anxious to receive your results. The first thing you should know is how the exam is scored.
Your Test ResultsTo pass the CTEL Examination, you’ll need to pass all three subtests, which are scored separately. Recommendations from California educators were used to determine the passing score for each subtest. Your test score is based on how well you did when compared to the standard established, not through comparison with other examinees. The total subtest score is based on raw score points you earned in each section (multiple-choice section and essay section), the weighting of these sections, and the scale of that score. These scores are then converted to a scale of 100 to 300, and the scaled score of 220 represents the minimum passing score.

You don’t have to pass the subtests in a particular order. You’ll have five years to take all three subtests and apply for certification. If you exceed the five-year time limit before applying for certification, you’ll need to retake the subtests.

If you don’t pass a subtest, you can retake it as many times as you need to until you pass. But, you have to pass the test in a single day—you can’t pass sections of a subtest on separate days until you’ve passed the entire subtest. And if you need to retake a subtest, you’ll need to register for it and take the entire subtest again, not just the sections you missed.

Getting Your Results

Your test results will be reported to you, to the Commission, and to any learning institution(s) that you noted when you registered to take the test. Your official score report will be mailed. The Commission publishes the mailing dates on the CTEL website.
Keep in mind that your score report is for your information and personal records. You need to keep the original for your records. Even though the Commission will receive notification of your score, you will still need to submit a copy of your report with your credential application.

If you don’t get your results right away it may be due to the fact that you’re taking a new version of the test and the scores are still under development. Or it may be due to problems with your registration or payment. If you don’t receive your report after the date listed on the Commission website, you should call the Commission to find out why.

Unofficial test results are available on the Internet at 5:00 PM Pacific time on the score report dates published on the CTEL website. They will remain available for two weeks, but you can only view them once. To use this method to get your results, you need to provide your birth date when you register. You may also sign up to receive the unofficial results via e-mail. Test results are available on the Internet and by e-mail solely to provide you with preliminary, unofficial notification of your passing status as quickly as possible. Unofficial test results sent by e-mail or posted on the Internet are not acceptable substitutes for an official score report.

Your official results will be sent to you by U.S. mail on the date published on the CTEL website. Your score will be sent to the address that you provided in your application. For each subtest you took, your score report provides information about your passing status and other performance information. You can get additional and detailed information about the requirements for passing the exam on the CTEL website. When you receive your score it will come with an explanation that tells you what the score means.

What to do the Day of the Exam

You’ve registered for the CTEL exam, studied for it, and now all that’s left is to take the exam. Before you hop on the bus or get into your car, there are some details you should know. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the organization that administers the CTEL, has posted a number of rules and guidelines for what you should do and bring on the day of the test.

When to arrive

While you might be tempted to arrive to the test site early, it’s not necessary. If you’re scheduled for the morning test, you need to arrive by the test time on your admission ticket, 8:00 AM (it concludes at 11:45 AM). The Commission has already built in time for check in, so as long as you arrive on time you’ll be in good standing. The afternoon exam begins at 12:30 PM, and concludes at 4:15 PM.
Even though you don’t have to worry about getting to the site early, you do need to be concerned with getting there late. The Commission warns that there is the possibility that examinees who arrive late will be turned away. If that happens, you will not be given a refund. You will need to reregister, pay the full amount of the fee, and go to take the test again. If you are permitted to take the test, you won’t be given any extra time to complete it, and you will need to sign an acknowledgement to that effect.

If you do not show up to take the exam, you will not be given a refund. You will need to reregister for the exam, and pay the full fee.

What to take to the Exam

You’ll need to take two or three No. 2 sharpened pencils with you to the exam. Make sure they have erasers. The Commission does not provide pencils, so this is important. You will also need to take identification. The Commission recognizes a government-issued ID that has your photo and signature on it, usually a passport or driver’s license. If you don’t have either one of these IDs, you may be able to obtain an ID through the driver’s license bureau. In the event that you arrive at the test site without an ID you may still be able to take the exam, but you’ll need to go directly to the information table at the test site, where you will provide a thumbprint and complete a personal identification form. You will then be given 30 days to obtain an accepted form of ID and present it to the Commission. Until then you will not be able to obtain your test score or results online.
You should also plan to dress warmly in layers. The temperature of the test site is not always under the control of the administrators, and it could be warm or cool. Dressing in layers will keep you warm, and you can remove a layer if the site is too warm. The Commission also asks that you wear soft-soled shoes to the site, to keep the environment as quiet as possible.

The Commission does allow you to bring a water bottle to the site and to keep with you as you take the exam. However, there are rules you’ll need to abide by in order to bring the bottle into the site with you. The bottle must be clear, have no label, and have a secure lid. You cannot keep it on the desk, but instead place it under your seat during the exam time.

What NOT to take to the exam

The Commission publishes an entire list of items that are prohibited at the test site. You can find this list by visiting the CTEL exam website. A few of the items that are prohibited to have with you in the exam room include cell phones, calculators, packages, bags, and hats. You are also not allowed to smoke, have visitors, or possess weapons of any kind.

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