The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin last week—Friday, Aug. 1—to address, among many items, final passage of a proposed revision to 19 TAC Chapter 227. ATPE strongly supported the revision that would have raised the minimum GPA requirement for admission into an educator preparation program (EPP) from a 2.5 to a 2.75. In May, the board took initial action, following testimony by ATPE, to raise the minimum GPA requirement, but after much discussion on Friday among board members and strong opposition from alternative certification programs (ACP), the board voted to keep the minimum GPA requirement at 2.5.
ATPE, the only group that testified in favor of the rule change despite plenty of support, is a strong advocate for raising standards for entrance into the education profession. In addition to testifying at Friday’s SBEC meeting, ATPE submitted written comments in support of the proposal to raise the minimum GPA requirement earlier last month. Our oral testimony before the board last week was based on research and case studies that show raising standards for entrance into the profession have a positive effect on teacher and student success. We know that countries demonstrating the most international success in student achievement have imposed selective entrance requirements for teachers and that Texas EPPs that voluntarily set a higher bar for admission perform better.
ATPE stressed the importance of high standards for the profession. Raising the standards for teacher preparation will lead to more prestige for the profession and improved prestige will attract more qualified candidates to enter a career in teaching. Further, making the education profession more selective will better equip educators to demand meaningful change such as improved compensation and more support for new teachers entering the classroom.
Those who testified in opposition to raising the minimum GPA requirement all represented for-profit alternative certification programs (ACPs). These programs claimed that raising standards would lead to teacher shortages among certain populations and reduce the number of EPP applicants. ATPE disputes these concerns. As mentioned, research suggests raised standards will attract more candidates to the profession, not detract them. Additionally, the rule includes appropriate safeguards—safeguards ATPE supported and recommended that the board maintain—to ensure potentially great educators do not get overlooked. One exception allows an EPP to waive the minimum GPA rule for 10 percent of candidates who are otherwise exceptional. There is also the option to meet the GPA requirement by looking only at a candidate’s last 60 hours of coursework, where a student’s GPA tends to be higher.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) estimated that approximately 11 percent of candidates admitted in previous years did not have a 2.75 GPA. The 10 percent exception would have covered nearly all of those candidates. However, the ACPs testifying against raising the minimum GPA discussed percentages as high as 40 percent within their own programs who would not be able to satisfy a 2.75 GPA requirement—a troubling percentage of candidates much higher than what TEA found to be the statewide percentage, which merely adds to concerns about for-profit ACPs failing to impose adequate admission standards.
ATPE supports alternative routes to certification and a growing number of our very successful members received their certification through ACPs. Still, we recognize the GPA issue is extremely important for alternative certification paths where candidates face an expedited training and are often placed in the classroom almost immediately. It is crucial that we know these candidates are entering the program with a certain level of expertise in their content area to ensure that they are not being set up for failure in the increasingly high-stakes work environment facing new teachers. ATPE recently highlighted a national report that unfortunately showed many ACPs in Texas are setting too low bar on GPA admission standards, partly on account of state regulations that are too lax. SBEC had an opportunity to help improve the quality of educator preparation in Texas by raising its minimum GPA requirement, but the board ultimately declined with only two members —teacher Suzanne McCall and public member Laurie Bricker — voting to raise the GPA.
Research shows that access to an effective educator is the most important school-based factor affecting student success, and this is why raising the standards to enter the profession is so important. During debate on the issue, the board discussed a desire to find other ways to raise standards and we hope to see positive outcomes from that discussion. It will be particularly interesting to monitor the board’s upcoming decisions on raising standards in light of the forthcoming Sunset Commission report. The Commission’s 2012 report recommended abolishing the board and referenced a need to raise standards for the profession. Similarly, the Legislature has encouraged SBEC to raise the entrance standards for the profession, and the board has again disregarded those recommendations.
In other SBEC business from the meeting last week, ATPE testified orally and in writing in opposition to two proposed amendments that would change rules surrounding SBEC’s sanctioning authority of Texas educators. The proposed amendments would remove the “willfully or recklessly” limitation in current rule for certain violations relating to an educator’s duty to report information to SBEC or TEA. ATPE expressed concern that without these limitations, educators could be sanctioned for not reporting information of which they may not have been aware. We were able to make small revisions to one of the proposals, but ATPE still finds the deletion of the language troubling. SBEC will vote on final approval of the proposed changes at their October board meeting.
Additional housekeeping news included the election of Dr. Dawn Buckingham as the new vice chairwoman to replace Christie Pogue who resigned her position on the board to take a job with TEA, the addition of Leon Leal as a newly appointed member of the board, and the approval of new members of the Educator Preparation Advisory Committee to be determined by TEA.