The coronavirus pandemic won’t prevent most teacher candidates from moving into California classrooms next school year, even if they have yet to complete all the normally required student teaching hours or certification tests.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing voted Thursday to give university teacher preparation programs wide latitude to decide when teacher candidates are prepared to move onto the classroom. The commission made its decision during a virtual meeting attended by more than 550 viewers. It affects students who are on track to complete their coursework between March 19 and Sept. 1.
California expects 26,000 teachers, principals and other administrators, speech-language pathologists and school psychologists, counselors, social workers, nurses and librarians to graduate this school year, according to the commission. The majority are studying to get their teaching credential.
Commissioners voted to temporarily waive the 600 hours of student teaching normally required to earn a teaching credential. It will allow university faculty in the program where the student teacher is enrolled to decide how many hours each candidate needs.
It is recommending that universities consider whether a candidate has passed the Teaching Performance Assessment, which measures their knowledge and skill as a teacher, when deciding how much student teaching a candidate should complete.
Student teaching, generally regarded as an essential part of a teacher’s training, was largely discontinued after teacher preparation programs ended in-person instruction across the state due to the coronavirus.
Justine Phipps, 23, a student in the teacher preparation program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a California State University campus, approved of the move but worried about missing out on valuable student teaching hours. The coronavirus abruptly ended her student teaching program just 50 hours before she was to complete it.
She would have moved on to the final portion of her teacher training — working with students on her own for two full weeks. She had previously spent three days a week student teaching.
Phipps has a job waiting for her next school year at Cipriani Elementary School in Belmont-Redwood Shores Unified.
“There are some unsettling feelings about it, because I am missing out on that full-time experience,” Phipps said. She wonders about “the day-to-day process” and what a full week teaching in a classroom would have looked like had she been able to continue student teaching.
Centers that administer a range of tests that teachers need to take to get their credential also have been closed as a result of the pandemic, preventing teacher candidates from completing required testing. Thursday the commission voted to defer the basic skills requirement, usually satisfied by taking the California Basic Education Skills Test, for credential candidates that haven’t completed the tests. The teacher candidate will have to take the test at the next available opportunity.
The commission can give candidates a little more time to pass tests. But most are required by state law, and only the Legislature has the power to eliminate them. State law doesn’t allow the commission to suspend the California Basic Education Skills Test for those who have failed the test, according to the commission.
Some of those calling in to the commission meeting during the comment part of the meeting on Thursday asked commissioners to recommend that Gov. Gavin Newsom eliminate some of the tests altogether.
Commission President Tine Sloan said that the commission is doing all it is allowed by law to help teacher candidates impacted by the coronavirus epidemic. She said it is working with Newsom on an executive order and legislation that could remove additional hurdles for teacher candidates.
“There are things we can do and those are on your agenda,” Sloan told her fellow commissioners. “Everything we can bring to bear and you can take action on is on your (commission) agenda.”
The commission also voted to allow credential programs to request so-called “variable term waivers” from the commission for candidates who have not completed all their credentialing requirements, such as exams, coursework and practice hours due to the pandemic. The waivers will allow teachers to complete those requirements while they work as teachers. The waivers are limited to candidates who, before the crisis struck, were on track to complete all their classes by Sept. 2020.
Action by the commission also gave a reprieve to new teachers and administrators, whose efforts to complete a required two-year “induction” program were cut short by the pandemic. The commission agreed that those who were on track to complete the program can earn credit for a full year of induction this year.
An induction program, which takes place during the first two to three years of a teacher and administrator’s career, is required to earn a full credential. It includes mentoring, one-on-one coaching, continuing education and observations from veteran teachers and administrators to provide feedback and improvement.
Commissioners said they will continue to evaluate the needs of teacher candidates during the crisis.