May 29, 2020
Updated April 30, 2021
Many public and private institutions of higher education (IHEs) around the nation have shifted to remote learning to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Though many students can continue their learning online, there are some programs that require in-person experiences, such as educator preparation programs (EPPs) and their student teaching experience and licensure exams that are required by state law. These programs may also require entrance exams and performance assessments that must be completed in person. When K-12 schools and testing facilities close, states must provide guidance to EPPs to make sure that those who were poised to become a student at an EPP, or a newly licensed teacher, are provided with the opportunity to do so.
States depend on newly certified teachers to fill positions being created as teachers retire or leave the profession and states need to ensure that the teachers coming from educator preparation programs this year are properly trained and ready to enter the workforce. Many teachers that were previously considering leaving the profession felt the additional strain placed on teachers during the pandemic and made the decision to leave. Due to the pandemic, 27% of teachers have considered at least taking a leave of absence. This reinforces the critical position of EPPs in maintaining the pipeline for educators.
EPPs have been facing enrollment issues that have worsened in the pandemic. EPPs have experienced both a decline in enrollment of more than one-third since 2010, and a 28 percent decline in completion. Prior to the reversal this year, in the winter, the University of South Florida decided to close the undergraduate programs within its College of Education. The initial decision was made due to a 63 percent drop in enrollment over the last decade despite the expected 14 percent K-12 population increase from 2011-2023. This is representative of a trend of less people being interested in studying to become teachers, which has been noted due to the perception of the field and reported layoffs.
Multiple state legislatures and state agencies have taken steps to provide programs with guidance on how to continue to prepare students in EPPs and credential current candidates who will finish their programs in the spring or summer semester. The guidance provided by some include mandatory provisions and flexibility to consider individual student needs.
Here are some examples of steps taken by states as pertains to EPPs and new teacher licensures. AACTE has tracked changes that have occurred across initial licensure and certification, clinical experiences, hiring and induction, and state standards for every state. Deans for Impact has a tracking database of state policies regarding teacher preparation.
Entrance Examinations | Mississippi is suspending entrance exam requirements for its traditional and non-traditional EPPs for all students entering up until December 2021. Those going through a non-traditional EPP must still meet certain requirements, like holding a bachelor’s degree in the subject area the license is being sought. This is on trend with a growing number of schools who no longer require SAT/ACT scores for admission, and those who won’t be able to use them since College Board, the tests’ creator, cancelled their spring testing sessions. To aid those impacted by public school closures, the state has gone a step further and suspended the student teaching requirement for current students, allowing a portion of the required 12 weeks of clinical hours to be done virtually.
Clinical Experience | Kentucky requires teacher candidates to complete 70 days’ worth of clinical experience in a classroom. However, the state’s Educator Profession Standards Board, the agency responsible for EPP standards and administering teacher licenses, waived the in-person requirement. This will allow students to participate with their supervising teacher during Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI), a program started in the state in 2011 that requires districts to develop plans for NTI days in response to emergencies or disasters, as well as virtual options in order for students to meet the 70 day requirement.
Performance Assessments | edTPA is a performance assessment currently being used or piloted in 41 states. edTPA was created in partnership with the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. This assessment looks different in each state but is a capstone assessment that includes clinical experience and a “documented learning segment.” edTPA has provided guidance for administrating the program for those working in virtual environments. For California teacher candidates, completing the clinical experience or documented learning segment isn’t possible because of school closures. To aid in this, the state has given all candidates an extension of 18 months on submitting their registration to take or retake the assessment. This means all candidates registering for the capstone can do so by December 2021 without penalty, and the extension will be given to them automatically once they register. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has also outlined what authority EPPs have during this time. These include being able to modify clinical experience, offering course equivalencies, and modifying planned coursework to adhere to social distancing requirements and meet the needs of their students, while also maintaining program quality.
Extend Licensure Examination Windows | Some teacher candidates in Washington may be eligible for an emergency licensure because of state action. The State Professional Educators Standards Board has given the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction the ability to issue emergency licenses to eligible candidates after EPPs have verified that the student has completed all parts of their program, including required clinical hours and coursework, “with the exception of one or more assessments.” This will allow those affected by campus and testing site closures to be able to begin their teaching practice and take up to one full year to pass necessary exams.
New Teacher Induction | North Carolina’s NC New Teacher Support Program (NC NTSP) is a university-based induction program through partnerships with universities, individualized coaching, and professional development. NC NTSP coaches held virtual coaching professional development ahead of the 2020-2021 school year to better support teachers in classroom management. Teacher induction and mentoring programs are adjusting to support new teachers in the new learning environment precipitated by the pandemic.
Program Approval and Renewals | Some states have provided varying guidance on EPP program approval and renewal. Washington D.C. instituted an 18-month suspension period of approvals and renewals to allow for new rulemaking.
As states, districts, and IHEs reckon with the effects of COVID-19 closures, states must respond to ensure that those entering EPPs, and the new teacher workforce, get prepared and credentialed with the same level of quality. Their considerations must include entrance into these programs, clinical experience, and licensing exams, so that they are able to craft short-term solutions. Below are policy options that should be considered in these efforts.
Waive College/Program Entrance Exams | Over 1,000 colleges around the country give students flexibility in whether to report SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process. If testing centers and schools close, state higher education executive officers should consider waiving these requirements outright for a considerable amount of time. As seen in Mississippi, the entrance exam for their traditional and non-traditional educator preparation programs has been suspended for a period up to 18 months, allowing for the current and future entering class to have time to settle into a new normal created by COVID-19. This will also allow the state to reevaluate its policies around entrance exams to determine if they in fact are vetting for the best and brightest candidates or barring potentially effective teachers, as many standardized assessments are known to do.
Offer Emergency Licenses | In order to make sure that school closures don’t exacerbate already existing teacher shortages, states should consider offering emergency licensure to students who have completed most of their standard requirements to earn a credential. This practice should also be combined with offering longer grace periods to complete program requirements given various closures, and other pervasive issues that cannot be accounted for, but may be revealed going forward. Some states have allowed candidates who have partially completed requirements to receive temporary provisional or emergency licenses. Washington issued certificates based on recommendations from the candidate’s EPP.
Use Federal Funds to Support Teacher Preparation and Recruitment Efforts | ESSER funding allocated to states could be used for enhancing the teacher pipeline by making investments into alternative certification programs and diversifying the teacher pipeline. Alternative certification programs provide additional routes for prospective teachers and can attract professionals who have other degrees. Two states, Kentucky and Tennessee have used ESSER funds to attract and recruit diverse teacher candidates. Kentucky established their Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching to provide financial support in the completion of approved teacher educator programs. Tennessee’s Teacher Promise program provides grants to IHEs and non-profits to help remove barriers to entry for prospective teachers.
Examine the Use of Teacher Licensure Assessments | States should examine all aspects of licensure assessments to determine where changes could be made. This can be an opportunity to strengthen EPP and local education agency (LEA) partnerships through the facilitation and support for completion of these licensure assessments for credentialing with access to the needed clinical experiences and data. Alternatively, this could be an opportunity to reassess the need for licensing assessments based on criticism that the widely used edTPA has received. Last year, Georgia eliminated their edTPA requirement for certification and researchers on teacher education have encouraged other states to do the same.
Examine Out-of-State Teacher Licensure Policies| In order to address teacher shortages and attract more teachers to the states, considerations should be made for changes in out-of-state licensure requirements for educators. This consideration is especially important in states where fewer educators are graduating from EPPs. Tennessee is taking actions with legislation to support previous licensure decisions by allowing out-of-state teachers simpler licensure requirements, with their most recent evaluation score being valid, even if it is outside of the COVID-19 waiver window. New Jersey considered accepting out-of-state licenses through reciprocity during the pandemic as it faced teacher shortages. A pilot program, the Alternate Route Interstate Reciprocity Pilot Program (S-2831) was created to examine a path to allowing out of state teachers eligibility for licensure in the state.
Provide Alternative Clinical Experiences | The pandemic has highlighted the need for specifically designed virtual experiences to be offered to provide clinical teaching requirements. These experiences could take a variety of shapes: virtual classroom observation with cooperating teachers who feel prepared to support teacher candidates, methods courses that focus on certain curriculum areas or use of virtual reality training software, and adapting student teaching to allow for videotaping. Bagwell College of Education in Georgia was able to make use of mixed-reality technology to provide scenarios with real-time feedback. As the clinical experience is essential to the certification process for new teachers, investments should be made to ensure quality experiences for prospective teachers.