(Image courtesy of MediaPhotos/iStock, via CalMatters)

California teacher candidates may be able to use coursework they have taken to satisfy their degree requirements to prove they are ready to teach, instead of taking some state tests currently required to obtain a teaching credential, according to a proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

If legislators approve the proposal, teacher candidates will no longer have to take the California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, or the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, otherwise known as the CSET. Those two tests are among several that teacher candidates are required to pass before they earn a credential, and many potential teachers have failed.

Currently, a teacher candidate is required to prove proficiency in basic reading, writing and math by passing the CBEST or other approved exams. The test is usually taken before a student is accepted into a teacher preparation program.

The governor’s proposal would allow candidates to avoid the test if they have earned a grade of B or better in coursework and on tests approved by a university teacher preparation program or the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Teacher candidates also have been required to pass tests that are part of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers to earn a credential. Elementary school teachers must pass three tests — in science and math; reading, language, literature, history and social science; and physical education, human development and visual and performing arts — to earn a multiple-subject credential. Middle and high school teachers earn single-subject credentials in areas such as art, biology or English by passing at least one subject exam.

New options for teachers

The new proposal would allow teacher candidates to use college courses in subjects related to the credential they are seeking, or a combination of courses and tests, to prove they are competent to teach a subject.

If the Legislature approves the proposal, the changes would go into effect on July 1.

“The commission is always seeking ways to broaden opportunities for aspiring teachers to enter the classroom,” said Sasha Horwitz, spokesman for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “We are excited that the state budget includes plans to move away from testing as the primary way to meet the basic skills and subject-matter requirements.”

The proposal is part of an education budget trailer bill accompanying the proposed 2021-22 budget Newsom announced in January. Several trailer bills were released Tuesday, offering details about the policy changes in the proposed budget.

Lots of tests for teacher candidates

California’s teacher candidates have been required to take up to six tests to earn a credential, depending on what they plan to teach. The tests have been a major stumbling blocks for many, with nearly half of California’s potential teachers struggling to pass the standardized tests required to earn a credential, according to data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

In the last two years the commission has convened workgroups and held numerous meetings to study how to best reform the testing process. The COVID-19 pandemic ramped up these efforts as testing centers closed, making it difficult to take the required tests.

In the spring, the governor and Commission on Teacher Credentialing eased some rules for the required tests. In a budget trailer bill in June the governor gave teachers more time to complete all the requirements for a credential and more time to submit information missing from applications.

The commission passed several resolutions in April that made it easier for teacher candidates to move into classrooms, including voting to waive the 600-hour requirement for student teaching and allowing university educators to decide when teacher candidates are ready to teach.

The proposed changes to teacher testing in the budget trailer bills are largely the same as those proposed last year in Assembly Bill 1982, which addressed the CBEST, and Assembly Bill 2485, which addressed the CSET. Both failed to pass before the end of the legislative session last year. The biggest difference between the budget proposal and the bills is that the bills, meant to help teachers complete their credentials during the coronavirus pandemic, were set to end after three years. The new proposal has no sunset date.

State lawmakers are planning to reintroduce the Assembly bills this year to better ensure the changes become law, even if they are removed during the budget process, Horwitz said.

The RICA test 

A third bill on teacher testing — Senate Bill 614 — also failed to make it to a vote last year, but it was not addressed in Newsom’s budget package. The bill would have eliminated the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA, with a basic writing skills test on the Teacher Performance Assessment.

Teacher candidates take the RICA after they receive a bachelor’s degree and are enrolled in a teacher preparation program. Teacher candidates planning to teach elementary school or special education must pass the test to earn a credential. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing assembled a panel to recommend alternatives to the RICA last year because of its high failure rate.

If the latest proposal passes, teacher candidates will still be required to take the RICA and the California Teaching Performance Assessment, which measures how well teacher candidates assess students, design instruction, organize subject matter and other skills. The performance assessment is required for teachers, except special education teachers, before they can earn a credential.

* Story originally published by EdSource.