CHARLESTON — The process of becoming a teacher is set to become a little bit less daunting in West Virginia.
As the state stares down a continuing teacher shortage, the state Board of Education on Wednesday morning waived two policies that proponents hope will bolster the number of those working to become educators in the state and reduce the time it might take them to gain licensure.
Effective no later than Dec. 31, 2023, any student or resident teacher who has attempted the teaching license-granting Praxis exam two or more times without meeting the required cut score, while maintaining a B or better grade point average in their content area, would be eligible for a Restricted Clinical Experience Permit and be able to complete their clinical placement under supervision of institutional officials and supervising teachers.
If unable to meet the required scores on their content area Praxis exam at the time of application and employment, candidates would be eligible for a one-year temporary license.
During that year, the candidate must either successfully complete their content exam or complete a teaching performance assessment demonstrating content skill to obtain an initial teaching certificate.
“We’re not removing or lessening the requirements, we’re offering additional supports and more time in which individuals have to complete and receive these supports,” said Robert Hagerman, Department of Education certification director and a longtime educator. “Sort of in the spirit of internship and residency, to learn by doing, we’re giving these individuals the ability to be in the classroom while they hone their skills to be able to require additional skills to be successful in completing those requirements or demonstrating those requirements in a different way.”
According to a 2019 report by the self-described non-profit, non-partisan and teacher-led National Council on Teacher Equality, when examining Educational Testing Service data, it was found only 46% of those elementary teaching candidates who attempted the four sub-section elementary Praxis content exam passed on their first try. On their final attempts, candidates passed at a rate of 77%. The report further indicated a quarter of those who attempted the test eventually gave up, a number that was higher for teachers of color.
“We don’t want to lose these students to other professions or other career pathways, so we’re looking continually between our offices at how we can increase support and remove barriers for our preservice teachers to be successful,” said Carla Warren, director of development and support services at the Department of Education and also a longtime educator. “This is going to give them an extra amount of time to meet that requirement. Our concern is that, if we look at a single high-stakes standardized test as our only indicator of the ability of a teacher to be successful in the classroom, that is really excluding a large number of students.”
Comparatively to teacher licensing rates, about 85% of nursing candidates pass their licensing exams on the first attempt, 69% of lawyers and just 20% of certified personal accountants.
The report cites a disparate focus on teaching methodologies at the college level as opposed to the test’s focus on core subject material as an aggravating factor in low first-time passage rates. The report outlined 11 topic areas the multi-subject elementary test covered. Of 811 undergraduate teaching programs observed, the report found 84% of programs covered less than half of the outlined content areas. Meanwhile, only 5% screened for required content knowledge during entry into an undergraduate program. “Most” of those schools are located in Missouri, where the screening process is law.
The report further found that only 21 undergraduate programs observed “reasonably aligned content coverage with most elementary content topics.” West Virginia State University’s teaching program was one of the few.
“We hear from parents on a regular basis that their student has a 3.5 GPA, is ready for their last semester, they’ve completed all the requirements to graduate with an education degree, but they can’t pass a specific Praxis exam,” Warren said. “This is going to remove really the barriers of time, money and anxiety from our pre-service students and give them the scaffolding they need to be successful.”
Warren offered a testimonial in regard to her own path as an educator.
“I’ve said many times if you were to look at my standardized tests and determine my success as an educator, I wouldn’t be standing here,” Warren said.