School closures due to the coronavirus crisis have made it difficult for teacher candidates to complete the 600 hours of student teaching that is required. (Photo courtesy of EdSource)

Thousands of teacher candidates in California, preparing to graduate this year in the midst the coronavirus pandemic, may not have to complete all their student-teaching hours or take all required tests before teaching in their own classrooms next year.

On April 23, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is expected to vote on whether to temporarily reduce the required 600 hours of student teaching, known as “clinical practice” in the field, for this year’s graduating class of would-be teachers.

According to the commission, about 26,000 of the 80,000 educators enrolled in credentialing programs across the state are in their final year of preparation. Most of them are studying to become teachers, and are usually referred to as teacher candidates.

Extensive student teaching is required to earn most teaching credentials, and it is generally regarded as an essential part of a teacher’s training before getting his or her own classroom. But because schools are shut down across the state, opportunities to satisfy this aspect of a teacher’s preparation no longer exist.

The commission also will consider a raft of other recommendations that would allow teacher candidates to become classroom teachers, even though they are unable to complete requirements because of the coronavirus pandemic.  “Every single thing we do in education is under consideration now,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the commission. “We have to look at every single regulation, law, rule and requirement we have.”

Commission staff has spent the last three weeks considering the roadblocks candidates are facing and analyzing whether flexibility can be offered without commission or state action. It recently sent guidance to universities that included prompting teacher candidates to take part in remote or online teaching or other alternatives, like watching and analyzing videos of effective teaching, to earn student teaching hours. “Our earliest guidance to the field was to use this opportunity to get creative about what counts for clinical practice,” Sandy told California State University faculty in a webinar April 17.

These are issues every other state that has closed its schools is dealing with, as noted this week in an online post by the National Council on Teaching Quality, a research, policy and advocacy organization.

When California schools closed in March, many of the teacher candidates preparing to graduate were unable to complete student teaching requirements. Many also weren’t able to take required tests such as the Reading Instruction Competency Assessment and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers because the tests are not being administered because of pandemic concerns and regulations.

If these prospective teachers can’t get their credential that is likely to increase the state’s teacher shortage, which are most acute in high-needs subjects like science, math, bilingual education and special education.

Complicating the outlook for new teachers is the possibility of severe budget cutbacks in schools due to the current economic crisis, which could lead to new rounds of teacher layoffs along the lines of those made during the Great Recession nearly a decade ago.

The commission will consider a number of options. It could temporarily reduce the required  hours of student teaching for this year’s graduating class, allowing each teacher preparation program to decide when a teacher candidate has enough experience to teach. Or it could reduce hours of student teaching if the candidate passes the Teaching Performance Assessment, which measures their knowledge and skill as a teacher.

The commission also is considering requiring fewer formal observations of student teachers by program supervisors and cutting the requirement that they teach on their own in a classroom for four weeks.

Sandy said that the University of California system — which provides about 8 percent of the state’s  new teachers each year —has successfully moved student teachers to online teaching, but that other teacher preparation programs are still working toward that goal.

“We view all of this as an opportunity to learn for all of us,” Sandy said. “For the most part I’ve heard teachers are doubling down to provide students with opportunities to learn and student teachers are right there with them.”

One of the most important issues before the commission on Thursday is a recommendation to offer student teachers a one- to two-year waiver to complete all the credentialing requirements, including California Teaching Performance Assessment, Sandy said. The waiver will allow teachers to complete the assessment, while they work as a teacher instead of before they enter the classroom.

The commission could also come to the rescue of new teachers who are already in the classroom, and who are normally required to complete a two-year “induction”program to earn a full credential.

An induction program, which takes place during the first two to three years of a teacher’s career, includes mentoring, one-on-one coaching, continuing education and observations from veteran teachers to provide feedback and improvement

The commission will consider whether to give teachers, who are on track to complete the program, credit for a full year of induction this year, because the programs were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Test centers closed by the pandemic also have prevented teacher candidates from completing required testing. On Thursday, April 23, the Appeals and Waivers Committee of the commission will consider whether to  defer the basic skills requirement, usually satisfied by taking the California Basic Education Skills Test,  for credential candidates that haven’t taken it yet. The teacher candidate will have to take the test at the next available opportunity, according to the commission.

Teacher candidates graduating this year also may also be given an extra year to pass the Reading Instruction Competency Assessment. The test is required before a teacher can earn a preliminary credential.

While the commission can give candidates a little more time to pass the tests, most are required by state law and only the Legislature has the power to suspend or eliminate them.

“The bottom line is that at this very moment we have pathways for teachers to complete teaching programs,” Sandy said. “The commission will expand on that flexibility, so that as many candidates as possible can complete their program and earn a credential this year.

Story originally published by EdSource.