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A higher bar for new teachers eludes Texas for now

Tougher standards could include a state-specific test or beefing up preparation programs.

Texas wants a higher bar for new teachers but is struggling on how to ensure quality.

Thursday, the State Board for Educator Certification discussed what is needed, but it remains far from deciding precisely how to get there.

SBEC members considered a number of options: developing a Texas-specific certification test; requiring educator prep companies to embed more rigorous curriculum within their programs; and offering an already-rejected exam alongside other alternatives.

However, state law limits what they can require and implementing changes could take years.

“Kids can’t wait a decade to have better teachers,” Ector County Superintendent Scott Muri told the board, emphasizing the urgency to address quality immediately.

SBEC has oversight on certification exams, not on setting standards for internal assessments embedded within training programs.

While board members debated how best to proceed, all recognized the state’s current teacher certification test is problematic. Many Texas officials have complained about it with education commissioner Mike Morath calling the exam “trash.”

But last month, the State Board of Education rejected a proposal to replace the multiple-choice certification exam with a more rigorous portfolio exam.

About one-third of the state’s educator prep programs piloted the portfolio exam — called the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA test — over the last three years. That exam requires aspiring educators to prepare a portfolio of work that more closely resembles real-life scenarios.

Proponents hoped requiring the exam for all would-be teachers would strengthen the workforce at a time when the state faces problematic educator turnover and students grappling with tremendous academic needs. But critics worried the exam would be more expensive than the current offering and, as a result, would limit the teaching pipeline.

The education board charged SBEC with reviewing the current multiple-choice exam and exploring how to require a performance or portfolio test be included in educator preparation programs rather than in a certification test.

“We’re trying to balance the great work by some [educator preparation programs] with the need for consistency across our state,” SBEC chairwoman Jean Streepey said at Thursday’s meeting. “We’re trying to continue the successful work of our pilot programs and at the same time not restrict our pipeline.”

Among the options presented Thursday, TEA staff proposed offering edTPA as a certification exam but with low passing standards or even eliminating the passing requirement altogether for teachers. Instead, educator prep programs would be held accountable for their candidates’ performance. This option is allowable under state law.

Representatives from educator groups mostly favored developing a Texas-specific exam or embedding a performance-based test into training programs.

However, developing a Texas-based exam would likely take between three and five years and cost the state $5 million, officials said. The state would likely need to continue offering the current multiple-choice exam until a Texas test was ready, extending the existing challenges.

TEA staff will revise options based on feedback and discuss them at SBEC’s September meeting.

Texas schools — like many nationwide — face staffing shortages that have real impact for students: larger class sizes, fewer course choices and less experienced teachers.

Experts point to strengthening the teacher pipeline as a potential solution.

Texas’ teacher preparation landscape is vast and largely deregulated. Rather than universities, most new teachers go through alternative certification programs that have minimal state requirements and feeble oversight.

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The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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