article
New York State Certification
October 21, 2016

Regents grant 'safety net' for teacher certification exams no one has taken

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications

The State Education Department plans to introduce a new set of teacher certification exams that teacher education students can skip altogether, if they choose to take the existing set of exams instead.

The state now says teacher education students do not have to first fail the new certification exam before they can use this so-called “safety net.” It is the first time SED has granted a safety net for a new exam before any teacher preparation student has taken it.

“This pre-emptive action — to grant a safety net for exams no one has yet taken — raises the question of how ready these exams are for use by teacher preparation students,” said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees higher education policy for the union.

The Board of Regents, which approved the plan at its Oct. 18 meeting, said the new “safety net” would “help take some of the financial pressure off of students,” and “allow time for teacher education programs to adapt their coursework.”

This latest “safety net” applies to the 14 new content specialty tests that will be released in November as part of the state’s overhaul of the teacher certification exams. The content specialty tests evaluate a future teacher’s competency in areas of specialization, such as languages, chemistry or mathematics, and are one of four certification tests future teachers must pass in order to be licensed in New York State. There are 41 content specialty tests; 19 have already been revised and introduced.

In January, the Regents approved a safety net that applied only for the first 19 content specialty exams that have already been released, following an outcry by students and teacher education faculty that some teacher education programs did not have the time to revise their curricula to include the material covered in the new exams. Depending on the type of content specialty test, the earlier safety net allowed students to either take the older exam only if they failed the new one, or submit transcripts and other proof attesting they had demonstrated competency in the material.

The newest safety net expires June 30, 2019. Because students do not have to fail the new exam before they can utilize the safety net, they will likely pay only one registration fee.

The new safety net option also applies to students who still need to take any of the 19 previously revised content specialty tests. The safety net in those cases expires in June 2017.

In the three years since SED began introducing the revised teacher certification exams, the Regents have approved some kind of substitute path to certification for all four of the new exams. The new certification exams were designed by and are being administered by Pearson, Inc., the global educational testing company.

NYSUT, UUP, the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY and other critics of the new path to certification process note that if the exams are so problematic the state has to keep offering safety nets, then maybe the entire process needs to be evaluated. No systematic evaluation of the new package of exams has taken place since they were introduced in 2014.

A number of the Regents have expressed the same concern, and last spring, the Regents directed SED to revive a dormant statewide task force on one of the other certification exams, the educative Teacher Performance Assessment. That task force, which includes several NYSUT members, is still meeting.

“We support rigorous assessments of future teachers, but the current certification system needs to be fixed,” said UUP Vice President Jamie Dangler, a member of the statewide task force. “Pearson should be adequately field-testing new exams.”