Teacher candidates in California were given more time to complete tests required to earn a teaching credential and learned what coursework could be taken to replace some tests at a meeting of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing last week.
In July, the state budget trailer bill, which provides details for implementing new K-12 programs in the budget, gave teacher candidates who were unable to take some required tests, due to Covid-related issues, until Dec. 31 to complete the tests. It also gave the Commission on Teacher Credentialing the power to extend the deadline.
During its final meeting of the year, the commission agreed to extend the deadline for teachers to take the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA, the California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET.
The new June 30 deadline approved by the commission gives most teacher candidates until the end of their program to take required tests, such as the CBEST, if they are enrolled by that date. There are some variations. Teacher candidates must have applied for a credential to teach in a school as an intern by that date in order to put off taking the CSET, and teacher candidates enrolled by June 30 must pass the RICA before earning a clear credential.
“The struggle is real,” said Dannette Brown, the mother of a credential candidate who spoke on behalf of the California Teachers Association. “It has been extremely challenging for her, and her classmates, to navigate the circumstances of Covid and a preparation program and a job and all the things that go with it.”
About 20% of the state’s 130 testing centers have yet to reopen, according to a report from commission staff. Fresno and Oakland are among the areas with the least access to testing for teacher candidates, although many students throughout the state are taking advantage of new online testing options.
Some board members expressed concern that the deadline extension could have a negative impact on teacher candidates.
“Now, with the flexibilities, which we absolutely need to have, I want to be sure my fellow commissioners understand now we have a CBEST, CSET and RICA that could potentially still be pending after a candidate finishes a preparation program and I want to be sure, and I’m glad to hear, that we are having conversations around who is responsible for them and how are we going to continue to support them in finishing their work,” said Tine Sloan, commission chairwoman.
The state budget trailer bill also gave teacher candidates the option to take approved coursework instead of the California Basic Skills Test, or the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, to earn a credential.
At its meeting, the credentialing commission approved emergency regulations clarifying which courses and majors can replace CSET tests and prove a teacher’s competence in the subject they plan to teach.
In the past, elementary school teachers had been required to pass three tests to earn a multiple-subject credential and middle and high school teachers earned single-subject credentials in areas such as art, biology or English by passing at least one subject exam. State legislation allows candidates to demonstrate subject-matter competency by using either tests or coursework or a combination of the two.
The emergency regulations approved last week offered further guidance in a few areas, including not requiring students who major in kinesiology to take the CSET test in physical education and allowing students majoring in any area of science to forgo the foundational-level science test in the CSET.
According to the regulations, students must earn a grade of C or higher in eligible coursework. The courses must count toward a college degree and be completed at a regionally accredited college or university. Upper division or graduate courses that require knowledge of the subject covered by the credential also would be accepted. For example, a class in upper-division math would probably be enough to prove competency in algebra.
After debating whether a kinesiology degree should be removed from the regulations as proof of physical education competency or whether ethnic studies major should be added to the regulation as proof of social studies competency, the commission voted to adopt the emergency regulations as proposed by staff and to submit them to the state Office of Administrative Law.
The commission also directed staff to assemble a working group of staff and university faculty who represent the various subject areas to take a closer look at the different tests and related classes and to refine the regulations over the next six months.
These are the latest in a series of moves by the commission, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators since March 2020 to ease teacher testing, coursework and practice hours. The changes were made to ensure teacher candidates can complete teacher preparation programs as testing centers closed, teacher retirements increased and the number of teachers earning credentials declined.
“We have been doing many monumental things to address the shortage of educators in our state,” Sloan said during the meeting. “We have our Covid flexibilities that we will be talking about today. We have, in conjunction with the Legislature, made great strides in how we think about basic skills and subject matter requirements and how to meet them. We have an inordinate amount of money going into grants to support programs, new and expanding, and to help prepare more educators to be spectacular and excellent for the kids.”
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