May 29, 2020
Updated: September 14, 2020
Many public and private institutions of higher education (IHEs) around the nation have shifted to remote learning in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Though many students are able to 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 in order 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.
Solving the problem of preparing and certifying new teachers after COVID-19 is all the more pressing considering the impending economic recession to come. Researchers suggest that states will face a reduction in education funding by ten to twenty percent; a number that could be worse than the 2008 recession. This will mean district budget cuts that in the past led to a reduction in force, usually starting with veteran teaching staff, in order to decrease the amount spent on teacher salaries. If this is the case, states will depend on newly certified teachers to fill these positions and will need to make sure that this new cohort is properly trained.
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 spring or summer semester. The guidance provided by some include mandatory provisions and flexibility in order to consider individual student needs.
Here are some examples of steps taken by states as it pertains to educator preparation programs and new teacher licensures.
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.” 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 in order to adhere to social distancing requirements and meet the needs of their students, while also maintaining program quality.
Licensure Examinations | 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.
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 have 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.