The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing extended a waiver Thursday that will allow those in teacher preparation programs to begin teaching while they finish required exams, coursework and practice hours. It was the latest in a series of state actions to ease teaching requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the pandemic began many teacher candidates — those who are in or have completed a teacher preparation program but have not yet earned a teaching credential — have been unable to complete required exams because testing centers were either closed or had a backlog of appointments due to social distancing requirements. Others have not been able to complete student teaching or required coursework because school campuses are closed.

In April the commission approved the waiver that allows teacher candidates to begin teaching if they had not completed all credential requirements due to the pandemic. The vote Thursday (Feb. 11) extends the eligibility of those “variable-term waivers” for people unable to complete requirements through Aug. 31 of this year. The waivers must be requested by the candidate’s teacher preparation program.

Since last March, when communities went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the credentialing commission, state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom have taken a number of actions designed to help teacher candidates move into the classroom and prevent a worsening of the teacher shortage.

Teacher testing temporarily suspended in April

The commission temporarily suspended some teacher testing requirements in April. It also temporarily waived the 600 hours of student teaching normally required to earn a teaching credential, allowing teacher preparation programs to decide if a candidate is ready for the classroom. California’s teacher candidates have been required — at various points in their credential programs — to take up to six tests to earn a credential, depending on what they plan to teach.

Legislators jumped into the fray in late spring, authoring bills that would give teacher candidates the option of using university coursework to replace the California Basic Educational Skills Test, otherwise known as CBEST, and the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET, for the next three years. The bills never made it to a vote, but Newsom has made the same proposal part of his state budget, without a three-year sunset.

The governor also issued an executive order in May allowing eligible teacher candidates to earn preliminary credentials without taking either the California Teaching Performance Assessment, otherwise known as the CalTPA, or the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA. Both must be completed before earning a clear credential. It also allowed students to enter teacher preparation programs without passing the CBEST.

Before the new flexibilities, the CBEST was generally taken before enrollment in a teacher preparation program. Some teacher preparation programs require that students pass the CSET before admission, while some allow students to enroll first, then require they pass the test before they begin student teaching.

“As we continue to look forward to the new year in 2021, staff continues to work diligently with the field to understand and address the needs of candidates who are enrolled in educator preparation in this current academic year, many of whom may be completing programs and entering the profession without significant opportunities for in-person in classroom experiences,” said Cheryl Hickey, an administrator at the commission.

* Story originally published by EdSource.