School administrators will have more teacher applicants to consider for the upcoming school year after a vote by the Alabama Board of Education to change the requirements needed to obtain teacher certification.

Tuesday’s vote came as many school districts across Alabama are struggling to find qualified applicants to fill vacant positions.

The changes focus on the Praxis teacher qualification tests, which are needed in the most common route to teacher certification in Alabama. The Praxis tests vary depending on the candidate’s desired subject and grade level. The tests are designed to measure content knowledge.

The Alabama Board of Education voted to allow for two new teacher certification routes. Both would allow for a teaching candidate to move forward with certification if their Praxis score is within one standard error of measure of the currently required score. These candidates would also need to either demonstrate a higher GPA in their teaching field or participate in 100 hours of college-level professional learning.

The changes are effective immediately. Dr. Eric Mackey, who serves as the Alabama State Superintendent of Education, told 1819 News he expects the changes to result in about 200 more teachers being certified for the upcoming school year.

“We need them,” Mackey said. “I don’t need someone with a high school diploma and a substitute certificate trying to teach algebra. I need someone who passed algebra in college.”

The changes are temporary for now. They will sunset after two school years, ending June 30, 2024. The board can choose whether or not to renew the changes at that time.

Mackey has heard some people express concerns about ensuring the state has quality educators.

“It sounds counterintuitive, but we’re actually increasing the quality of teachers in many of our classrooms where we have a significant crisis,” Mackey said. “But, at the same time, we obviously really want all teacher candidates to pass the Praxis score. So, think of doing a sunset on it, let’s do this for two years. Let’s see what it does to our system.”

Stephanie Bell was the only ALBOE member who voted against the changes.

“We’re trying to increase student performance but lowering the standards for those who are going into the classroom,” Bell said. “And right now we need teachers who know what they’re doing.”

Bell told 1819 News she’s concerned about the impact on the quality of education.

“So many of them will be going into the areas where we need the best teachers, where the children are already challenged,” Bell said. “So if we continue to lower standards for the teachers, you’re sending a mixed message. You’re expecting students to be tested and practically every other profession has some type of assessment.”

Mackey said hiring quality teachers is still the goal.

“If they’re close to passing [Praxis], this is an opportunity to let them get into a classroom and demonstrate they can do the work,” Mackey said. “I’ll tell you this.  If they get into our classrooms and they can’t teach, they don’t know their content, we’ll let them go; need to let them go.”

Before the vote, Livingston Young of Muscle Shoals asked members to support the changes. He’s a math education student at Athens State University who explained he’s been struggling to pass the Praxis exam.

“Over the past few years, the Praxis has proved to be one of, if not the biggest, barrier for education students,” Young said.

Young told board members about how he’s dreamed of being a teacher since he was in middle school. However, he keeps coming up short of the required score of 160 on the math Praxis test he needs for teacher certification.

“I have now taken the Praxis eight times in the past year with my closest score being 159 on April 11, only one point away from passing and obtaining a professional certification,” Young added.

Young’s GPA in his teaching field is 3.27, which is higher than Alabama’s required 2.5 GPA for teacher certification. With the new changes, his higher GPA would qualify him for the teacher certification option which allows for a Praxis score within one standard error of measure.

“I want very high-quality teachers,” Mackey said. “There’s no question about that. There’s been a misnomer out there that we’re looking at lowering standards. We don’t want to do that. We do have some students who suffer from test anxiety, who’ve demonstrated that they can pass, [and] they’ve passed college calculus. They’ve moved through all the course work but they have test anxiety and don’t do well on the Praxis.”

The standard error of measure will be different for each Praxis test.

“[Standard Error of Measure] can be interpreted as an index of expected variation if the same test-taker could be tested repeatedly on different forms of the same test without benefiting from practice or being hampered by fatigue,” explained Alescia Marie Dingle, Public Relations Manager for ETS, which manages the Praxis tests.

Mackey provided 1819 News with a list of what the currently required scores are, compared to one standard error of measure. For example, the current mathematics passing score is 160. A score within one standard error of measure would be 152 or higher. Another example is early childhood education. The current passing score is 156. A score of 150 or greater would be accepted for a score within one standard error of measure.

Educators have expressed broad support for the Praxis score changes.

Erika Hughes, President of the Central Alabama Federation of Teachers, told 1819 News she supports the changes that were approved Tuesday. She said she would also support eliminating the Praxis test requirement altogether.

“If we have teachers who have spent four years in school and have a degree and multiple hours in the schools doing hands-on learning and they have passed that program, then they shouldn’t have to pass a test in order to have a job in that degree,” Hughes said.

Alabama Association of School Boards Executive Director Sally Smith said she was pleased with ALBOE’s decision.

“We are pleased the board approved the extraordinary critical need staffing waiver for a temporary period to address areas of the state where the shortage of teacher education graduates is greatest,” Smith said. “School boards continue to support [that] varied approaches be implemented and recommend the State Department of Education study the impact of these changes. AASB urges Alabama’s colleges of education to work toward eliminating barriers to graduation while the SDE addresses pathways to certification. We have the utmost confidence that school boards and administrators statewide will continue to place the best-qualified candidates available in our classrooms.”

Emily Sims is Associate Dean and Certification Officer at the University of Alabama. She said many of her students pass their required Praxis exam, but others have difficulty. She called the changes an opportunity.

“I have witnessed passionate, committed teacher candidates change their majors or, worse, never earn a degree simply because they were unable to obtain a passing Praxis test score,” Sims said. “Test anxiety is real. When candidates take the Praxis test numerous times and their scores decrease, you must pause to wonder why. I am not convinced that candidates know ‘less’ in their content area each time they retake the test. It is high stakes, and it’s timed, which, for many, is a recipe for undesired outcomes.”

Mackey hopes the changes help school systems that are struggling to find teachers.

“It’s about trying to get high-quality people in front of every child in the state,” Mackey said. “We don’t have any problem getting high-quality teachers in front of kids in Vestavia. We don’t have that problem in Auburn. But I have that problem at Dallas County High School in Plantersville and I’ve got to figure out a way to get high-quality people there and that’s what we’re working on.”

Tuesday, ALBOE also approved an option for school systems to grant a one-year waiver for teaching candidates who have a Praxis score within two standard errors of measure.

“The waiver opportunity is not a certification pathway,” Mackey said. “What we established is if a superintendent is in a place where they absolutely cannot find another teacher, so an option of last resort, and they have a candidate who graduated college but they made between minus one and minus two standard errors of measure, then we would give them a one-year temporary certificate that basically is like an emergency certificate.”

That waiver can be renewed for up to three years.

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