Tag Archives: teacher preparation

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 12, 2016

Happy Friday! Read highlights of this week’s education news:

skd282694sdcOn Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released preliminary financial accountability ratings for the state’s public schools for the 2015-16 school year. As was the case with the 2014-15 ratings, TEA announced that nearly 98 percent of Texas school districts and charter schools have earned superior ratings under the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST).

Under the FIRST rating system, 15 financial indicators are used to assign each school district or charter school a letter grade of A, B, C, or F, along with a corresponding financial management rating of Superior, Above Standard Achievement, Meets Standard, or Substandard Achievement. In the most recent analysis, four districts and four charter schools were assigned an “F” grade through the FIRST rating system. Seventeen districts and 10 charters earned “B” grades, and there were no “C” grades assigned this year. Districts and charters that are displeased with their assigned ratings may appeal the preliminary findings before TEA releases the final financial accountability ratings in October.

View TEA’s full press release about FIRST ratings here.


ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann were in Chicago this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) 2016 Legislative Summit. The NCSL Summit is the largest gathering of its kind where legislators, staff, and policy stakeholders from all over the country meet to discuss, learn about, and share perspective on national, state, and local policy issues.

Exter and Kuhlmann attended a variety of sessions within the education and election tracks this week, met with Texas legislators and their staffs, and networked with other policy and education professionals throughout the country. Session topics included, to name a few, a presentation of opposing views on the constitutionality of vouchers, discussions on new opportunities and limitations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the rollout of a new NCSL report on what states can learn from policies common among the highest performing nations. Kuhlmann and Exter are excited to bring back what they’ve learned and utilize the connections they’ve made to help ATPE achieve its policy goals.


As more school districts opt to pursue designation as Districts of Innovation (DOI), we want to remind you about ATPE’s DOI resource page available here. View updated information on school districts that are using the DOI law to claim exemptions from various state laws, including school start date provisions, requirements to hire certified teachers, and elementary class-size limits. Each DOI is required to notified the Commissioner of Education of its local innovation plan, although no formal approval by the commissioner is required by law. TEA is also providing a list of those DOIs that have supplied their innovation plans to the agency. Commissioner Mike Morath still has not yet finalized administrative rules for implementation of the DOI law, but 23 school districts have already adopted their innovation plans and filed them with TEA. The DOI law will be among topics discussed at upcoming interim hearings of the Senate Education Committee.


Next week, the Senate Education Committee is holding another interim hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The interim study topics for this meeting are school board governance and training; local policies that could achieve better student outcomes, particularly for low-performing schools; pre-kindergarten grants, and raising standards for teacher preparation programs. ATPE will be participating in the meeting and will provide a full report next week.


Comic Speech Bubble, Congrats, Vector illustrationTwo ATPE members are among Texas finalists announced for the 2016 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). ATPE congratulates Kirk Evans, a teacher at David and Lynda Olson Elementary School in Allen ISD, and Andrea Miller, a teacher at B.J. Smith Elementary School in Mesquite ISD. Evans and Miller both teach fifth-grade science and have been recognized for their achievements in elementary science teaching. View TEA’s press release about the award finalists here.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 1, 2016

Today is April 1, but we’re not fooling when we tell you it was a busy week at the Texas State Capitol. ATPE’s lobby team has the latest news affecting public education:


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended several hearings on Wednesday where the topics of discussion included the state’s budget and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Of particular interest was how to fund TRS-Care, which is facing a considerable shortfall heading into the next legislative session. ATPE was among several education groups to testify about the healthcare funding needs of our state’s active and retired educators. Read Josh’s blog post from yesterday to learn more.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

The Senate Education and Higher Education Committees held a joint interim hearing this week on teacher pipeline issues and the ongoing implementation of 2013’s House Bill 5, which overhauled the state’s graduation requirements and accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided testimony to the committee. Read her blog post this week to learn more about the hearing on Tuesday.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

Earlier this week, some students experienced significant issues while taking the online version of the STAAR test. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that upon returning to the system after having left it for a variety of reasons, students found that the work they had already completed on the test was gone. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) quickly released a public statement from Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday acknowledging the problem and the fact that it was unacceptable of both the agency and ETS, the state testing vendor, to allow such an issue to have occurred.

On Wednesday, TEA released another statement providing some technical instructions from ETS. Of particular note, the agency also stated in bold typeface, “For students who were not able to complete an online test because of the technology issues related to the STAAR online testing platform, districts are not required to have the students complete the test(s) and should feel under no obligation to do so.” The technical difficulties with the online STAAR testing come on the heels of existing criticism over test administrators’ being require to clock students’ break times during the test and growing concerns about the STAAR tests being unfair to students in special education programs.


If you’re planning to submit public comments on the Commissioner of Education’s proposed rules for the state’s new recommended appraisal system for principals, your deadline is Monday, April 4. Click here to view the proposed rules for T-PESS, which would take effect during the 2016-17 school year.

The commissioner has also proposed brand new rules for “Innovation Districts” authorized under last session’s House Bill 1842. The new law allows certain acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and receive exemptions from various state regulations. Public comments on those rules will be accepted through May 2. Click here to learn more.

Rules implementing a new pre-Kindergarten grant program have now been finalized. Click here to view the commissioner’s adopted rules, including responses to comments submitted by ATPE and other stakeholders after the rules were proposed.

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceNext week we expect to see the official filing of a new rule proposal from the commissioner to guide the implementation of last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring video surveillance cameras in certain special education settings. Commissioner Morath has already asked the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to provide an opinion on some questions that are considered open to differing interpretations based on the language of the bill. These include clarifying the specific settings in which the video surveillance is required and who may obtain access to the video footage. That request for an OAG opinion remains pending.

ATPE also expects to share an announcement soon about the release of adopted commissioner’s rules implementing the new T-TESS recommended appraisal system for teachers. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

On the agenda for next week, the State Board of Education will be meeting in Austin starting Tuesday, April 5. View its agenda and find links for watching live streams of the hearing on the TEA website here. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be in attendance and will provide updates for Teach the Vote. Also next week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) holds its meetings Thurday and Friday, April 7-8. View the TRS agenda and other materials here, and watch for updates from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson. Negotiated rulemaking on the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) also continues next week in Washington, D.C.

Finally, join us in celebrating ATPE’s 36th birthday today!


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 14, 2015

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Follow us on Twitter!

Happy Friday! Here’s a recap of education stories you might have missed this week from the Teach the Vote blog and the ATPE lobby team on Twitter.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) this week published test questions from the 2015 administrations of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). The released tests include STAAR exams for reading in grades 3-8; writing in grades 4 and 7; science in grades 5 and 8; social studies in grade 8; Algebra I; English I; English II; biology; and U.S. history; plus some STAAR test questions for math in grades 3-8. TEA stated in a press release, “Because the mathematics tests have undergone major revisions, there are not enough approved test questions in reserve to permit the release of full tests this year.” View the released test questions here on TEA’s website.


Several newsTweet 8-7-15 outlets this week reported on the State Board for Educator Certification’s recent move to make it easier for individuals with no previous education experience to become certified as school superintendents. Under current SBEC rules, one must first be certified as a principal (which requires two years of prior experience as a classroom teacher) and hold a master’s degree in order to be admitted to a superintendent certification program in Texas. SBEC voted last Friday, Aug. 7, to formally propose a rule change that would do away with those prerequisites. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who testified against the proposed change at last week’s board meeting, is featured in several of the news reports, such as this one from Lubbock’s Fox 34 News/MyFoxLubbock.com. ATPE members have long supported the premise that superintendents need education experience in order to be effective. ATPE’s Legislative Program, in fact, includes a recommendation that the state require administrators to have at least five years of classroom teaching experience. The SBEC board is expected take a final vote on the rule change in October. To learn more about the proposed change, read our blog post from last week.


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was a guest on KURV 710 News Talk Radio’s afternoon feature, “The Drive Home with Davis & Roxanne” on Aug. 13. The program, which aired live in the Rio Grande Valley yesterday, covered the topic of teacher shortages that have been reported in some parts of the country. Exter explained that Texas has not suffered shortages in the same manner Tweet 8-13-15as some other states, but enrollment in teacher preparation programs certainly did decline following the Texas Legislature’s massive education budget cuts in 2011. Exter and the radio hosts talked about several reasons that teachers often cite for leaving the profession and challenges they face in the classroom, including student discipline concerns, paperwork and other onerous requirements associated with student testing, plus inadequate training and support for new teachers. Exter also explained how teachers can benefit from becoming members of professional organizations such as ATPE.


Non-profit news reporting website The Texas Tribune, which ATPE has sponsored in the past, is featuring a series of reports this month on new laws taking effect in September. The “31 Days, 31 Ways” series included two stories this week on impending changes to Texas education laws. First, the Texas Tribune showcased a new truancy law aimed at reducing criminal penalties for students who fail to attend school. Tweet 8-11-15That article, which is also republished on our Teach the Vote blog, includes a flowchart to help you understand the new truancy processes for students and educators. In addition, yesterday’s Texas Tribune featured a story on changes to the state’s school accountability system. The article discusses Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s House Bill (HB) 1842, passed earlier this year, which modifies the timeline and actions associated with progressive sanctions against campuses that are not meeting academic standards. For instance, the new law requires TEA to close or appoint a board of managers to operate schools that have been academically unacceptable for five years. ATPE staff members were briefed by TEA officials this week on implementation of the new law; they noted that the board of managers requirement would not take effect until the 2018-19 school year and cautioned that implementation of some aspects of the bill may be hampered by the legislature’s failure to put money into the budget for HB 1842.

SBEC votes to water down superintendent certification standards, looks to baseball and business for guidance

SBECIf you visit the website of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and look up its description of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), you’ll read that SBEC “was created by the Texas Legislature in 1995 to recognize public school educators as professionals and grant educators the authority to govern the standards of their profession.” For multiple legislative sessions, SBEC has been threatened with the possibility of being disbanded by the legislature through the sunset review process. Again and again, educator groups have come to the defense of SBEC, defending educators’ rights to set the standards for their own profession through a board that is made up primarily of educators. That’s why it’s disappointing when SBEC takes actions that are so clearly inspired by outside business interests and those with no education experience whatsoever. Today, unfortunately, was one of those days, as SBEC took a step that will make it easier for individuals with no education experience to take on important leadership roles in public education.

SBEC is holding its regular meeting today, Aug. 7. Shortly before lunch, the board voted to give preliminary approval to a rule change that would allow someone to become a school superintendent despite having neither experience as a classroom teacher and principal nor managerial experience. The change was apparently instigated by one of two stakeholder groups that TEA convened late last year to recommend revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 242, Superintendent Certificate, Rule §242.20 on “Requirements for the Issuance of the Standard Superintendent Certificate,” and Rule §242.25 on “Requirements for the First-Time Superintendent in Texas.” One stakeholder group was believed to be composed primarily of business leaders, which favored allowing non-educators to fill superintendent vacancies. An additional stakeholder group made up of administrators and school board trustees also made a recommendation to the board, but their recommendation only allowed for non-principals who have three years of specific managerial experience within a school district to seek superintendent certification. That latter recommendation was also included as a separate pathway to superintendent certification. Neither pathway, however, would require any teaching experience.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

At today’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified that successful superintendents need both teaching and managerial experience. “Every superintendent needs a strong understanding of how education works, the needs of every student, and how administrative influence can change educational outcomes,” Kuhlmann told the board. “This is something that can only be gained from first-hand experience in the classroom.” Sharing input from an ATPE member who serves as an assistant superintendent, Kuhlmann outlined the types of daily decisions made by superintendents that require both managerial experience and the “perspective of classroom teaching.” ATPE was the only educator group to testify against the proposed rule change for new superintendents today.

The most outspoken advocate on the board for the rule change to allow “non-traditional” superintendents to be hired without need for a waiver was public SBEC member Laurie Bricker of Houston. Bricker expressed her belief that school boards should have authority to hire someone like Michael Dell or Bill Gates to serve as a their superintendents. She authored a last-minute substitute motion, ultimately accepted by the board, that removed language that would have required a school board of trustees to post publicly its reasons for hiring any such “non-traditional” superintendent under the new rules being proposed today. Dr. Rex Peebles, Assistant Commissioner for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, who serves as a non-voting member of SBEC, spoke against that change, arguing that transparency to the community and especially to faculty members working within the school district should be required. Bricker rejected a suggestion by SBEC member Suzanne McCall, a teacher, to add a requirement for TEA to approve the hire of any “non-traditional” superintendent, which McCall viewed as an extra layer of oversight and protection. Bricker was adamant that elected school board trustees alone should have blanket authority for hiring superintendents. Another public member who serves on the SBEC board, Leon Leal, compared the proposal to Major League Baseball, arguing that professional baseball teams have been very successful after being given authority to hire managers who were not former players.

In the end, SBEC members McCall and Kathryn Everest, a school counselor, were the only ones to vote against the motion to water down the superintendent certification rules. Next, the proposed rule change will be published for public comments and SBEC will have another opportunity to approve it on second and final reading at its next meeting. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

In more positive news, the board approved allowing at least one classroom teacher and one counselor to serve on its Educator Preparation Advisory Committee (EPAC). The request to add teacher representatives to the existing committee was made by ATPE’s Kate Kuhlmann in testimony today. The committee, made primarily of representatives of educator preparation programs (EPPs), meets quarterly to provide input on issues relating to EPPs. The EPAC has existed since 2006, and SBEC only recently voted to add some school district representatives to the committee. Today’s action in response to ATPE’s request will ensure that classroom teachers can also participate in discussions about preparing future educators and the need for any regulatory changes.

Today’s SBEC agenda also included discussions of future changes to certification exams and rules pertaining to admission to an educator preparation program. Some of those changes were necessitated by legislation passed earlier this year. How the board handles disciplinary cases involving educators was an additional topic of discussion today.

SBEC meets to address GPA requirement, sanction authority and new certification exams

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin last week—Friday, Oct. 24—to address a broad agenda. The meeting included final adoption of minor changes to SBEC’s disciplinary authority, a discussion of the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) decision to veto a recently modified SBEC rule that includes a minimum GPA requirement for educator preparation program (EPP) candidates, an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff on new certification exams, and more.

Adoption of changes to SBEC’s sanctioning authority over Texas educators:

ATPE testified both orally and in writing before SBEC at its August meeting in opposition to two proposed amendments that sought to change rules surrounding SBEC’s sanctioning authority of Texas educators. ATPE expressed concern that the proposed amendments removed the “willfully or recklessly” limitation in current rule for certain violations relating to an educator’s duty to report information to SBEC or TEA. We further relayed that without these limitations, educators could be sanctioned for not reporting information of which they may not have been aware. At the August meeting—where SBEC took a preliminary vote on the proposed language of one of the amendments and voted on final adoption of the other—we were able to make small revisions to the proposal that received final adoption but still found the deletion of the language troubling.

Last week, as the board voted on final adoption of the second proposal, ATPE was pleased to see the inclusion of additional changes. In response to our comments at the August meeting and the comments submitted by others after the conclusion of that meeting, TEA staff presented SBEC with substitute text for the proposed rule change. While the substitute text maintained the removal of “willfully and recklessly,” it narrowed the scope of what an educator is required to report in order to avoid certain violations, which ATPE views as a productive revision. SBEC approved the substitute language and adopted the amendment.

Discussion of SBOE’s recent rejection of the minimum GPA rule for EPP candidates:

Earlier this year, SBEC began rewriting several provisions in 19 TAC Chapters 227, 228, and 229, relating to educator preparation. Included among the changes was language pertaining to the minimum GPA requirement for most candidates seeking admission into an EPP. The rule change was prompted by the passage of House Bill (HB) 2012 by the Texas legislature in 2013, a comprehensive teacher quality bill that ATPE supported. ATPE has published several updates regarding the many developments of this rule change, which included an initial decision by SBEC to raise the minimum GPA requirement, a subsequent reversal of that decision by SBEC, and, most recently, the SBOE’s rejection of the ultimate SBEC decision maintaining the state’s existing minimum GPA requirement of 2.5 or lower for EPP candidates. An overwhelming majority of SBOE members agreed with ATPE and other stakeholders that the current GPA floor is too low and urged SBEC to return to the drawing board.

At SBEC’s meeting last week, the TEA staff presented an update on the SBOE decision to reject the GPA rule and outlined three potential scenarios under which to move forward: (1) SBEC can begin new rulemaking and reconsider the GPA requirement, (2) SBEC can seek an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General about the requirements of HB 2012, or (3) SBEC can do nothing and allow the legislature an opportunity to clarify the law. (There has been some disagreement over the intent of the language in HB 2012 relating to the GPA requirement. Some believe the bill requires SBEC to set a minimum GPA no higher than 2.75, while others believe the bill requires 2.75 to be the floor. Both sponsors of the legislation have stated their intent that the minimum GPA be set at 2.75.)

A majority of SBEC members spoke in favor of revisiting the matter and asked TEA staff to provide clarifying and more extensive data on the GPA issue. Again last week, ATPE provided written testimony to SBEC explaining our position in support of a more rigorous GPA requirement, which is based on studies that show we can better prepare Texas teachers and create a higher achieving student body by raising standards for entrance into the profession. We are pleased the board chose to revisit the GPA requirement at its March 2015 meeting and encourage SBEC to initiate rulemaking once again.

Update on new Core Subjects EC-6 and Core Subjects 4-8 tests:

TEA and SBEC have spent the last year developing new Core Subjects EC-6 and 4-8 assessments—another requirement of HB 2012—and an appropriate timeline for implementation of the new certification tests, which will replace existing Generalist exams and will first be administered in January 2015. In response to ongoing feedback from stakeholders, TEA staff informed SBEC last week that they will institute a pilot period beginning in January and will collect data on candidate test performance. During the pilot period, candidates will be able to take the test at no charge. If a candidate fails to pass the exam during the pilot period, he will simply be able to pay to take the old Generalist assessment. TEA will provide SBEC with data collected during the pilot period at its August 2015 board meeting and recommend additional changes to the exams if necessary.

SBEC members were particularly concerned about the amount of time that is required to take the new tests and expressed interest in taking a look at the number of field test questions included on the exam. They also asked to see disaggregated data on pass/fail rates during the pilot period to ensure there is no bias.

Other business:

  • SBEC voted to begin live streaming its board meetings, a change ATPE welcomes as it will increase transparency and provide for more efficient dissemination of information. Watch for more information from TEA on this development.
  • SBEC took a preliminary vote to reduce many of the fees relating to certification services. For example, the fee for an applicant requesting a standard certificate was reduced from $75 to $65.
  • SBEC adopted a statement in response to the Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report, which in part recommends abolishing SBEC and transferring its power to the Commissioner of Education. The statement opposes the recommendation to dissolve the board and stresses the importance of a governing board made up of education professionals. The Sunset hearing addressing this report will be held on November 12 and 13. ATPE also submitted recent comments to the Sunset Advisory Commission in response to the latest staff report.

SBOE rejects rule, sends strong message to SBEC on GPA requirements for future educators

The State Board of Education (SBOE) today took the rare step of rejecting a rule that had been previously adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). In August, SBEC adopted amendments to rules that establish minimum requirements for individuals to enter an educator preparation program (EPP). A bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 – House Bill (HB) 2012 –required SBEC to make certain changes to the requirements, including minimum GPAs and college credit hours required to become a teacher. SBEC decided on a rule that kept most of the entrance requirements unchanged, but state law requires the SBOE to review all rulemaking decisions made by SBEC and gives them an opportunity to effectively veto the certification board’s decisions.

Responding to testimony from ATPE in May, SBEC initially proposed raising its minimum GPA requirement from 2.5 to 2.75, but the board changed its mind in August and adopted a rule keeping the minimum GPA for EPP candidates at 2.5. SBEC’s rule allows candidates to satisfy the 2.5 GPA requirement based either on their overall GPA, or the average during their last 60 hours of college coursework. Thus, it is currently possible to enter an EPP in Texas despite having an overall GPA of less than 2.0. The state’s rule also allows EPPs to waive the GPA requirement altogether for up to 10 percent of their candidates.

A majority of SBOE members seemingly agree with ATPE and some other stakeholders who support raising the GPA floor for EPP candidates. Especially for alternative certification candidates who are employed as teachers of record almost immediately, before completing their training and passing state certification exams, a minimum GPA requirement helps ensure that new teachers have an adequate academic foundation to be successful in the high-stakes environment of teaching. Texas has been criticized in a number of reports and research studies for setting its standards for becoming a teacher too low, especially when contrasted with other states and countries that recruit their teachers more selectively. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter stated in a press release, “We owe it to prospective teachers to hold our state’s programs to higher standards, because admission criteria that are too low merely set new teachers up for failure.”

During both the SBEC and SBOE debates on the minimum GPA rule, there was disagreement as to the intent of the language in HB 2012 relating to the GPA requirement. Some believe the bill requires SBEC to set a minimum GPA no higher than 2.75, while others contend that the bill requires 2.75 to be the minimum GPA allowed by SBEC. This week, HB 2012 author Rep. Mike Villarreal wrote a letter to SBOE members explaining the legislative intent behind his bill and stating his belief that EPPs “must require an overall grade point average of 2.75 for admission.” Villarreal added, “We know that teachers have a significant impact on student learning and outcomes in the classroom. We must ensure that we are attracting the best and brightest individuals to the profession by adopting nationally recognized entrance requirements. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the National Council for Teacher Quality both recommend a 3.0 GPA for admission in an educator preparatory program.” SBOE member Donna Bahorich also told fellow board members that she received word that the Senate sponsor of HB 2012, Sen. Dan Patrick, likewise believed that the legislation would require a minimum 2.75 GPA.

Several of the state’s private alternative certification providers, operated by for-profit companies, testified before SBEC and SBOE that the state’s minimum GPA requirement should not be increased. They argued that raising EPP admission standards would keep potentially great educators from entering the profession and lead to teacher shortages. ATPE testified, and several SBOE members noted today, that the exceptions in the rule already cover those individuals who may not have had good GPAs in college but are capable of becoming highly effective educators. Even if the minimum GPA is raised from 2.5 to 2.75, those exceptions in the rule will still exist. In fact, statewide statistics proffered by the Texas Education Agency earlier this year showed that only 11 percent of recently certified teachers would have been unable to satisfy a 2.75 GPA rule, and there has been no data presented to show that raising the state’s GPA requirement would cause teacher shortages.

Today, SBOE members voted 12-3 to reject SBEC’s rule that would keep the state’s GPA rule as is at 2.5 with exceptions. The vote forces SBEC to reconsider the issue and propose another rule. In the meantime, the existing GPA rule, requiring a minimum 2.5 GPA with exceptions allowed, will remain in effect pending further action by SBEC. The next SBEC meeting is set for Oct. 24. According to Exter, today’s rule rejection by SBOE was the first since SBEC was last reorganized under state law. The SBOE is authorized by law to reject SBEC rules on educator preparation and certification but cannot rewrite them.

While the SBOE’s vote today does not change the existing rule or force SBEC to adopt a higher GPA standard, it sends a strong message that legislators, policymakers and stakeholders expect Texas to raise its standards for educator preparation. “From high-stakes testing, to graduation requirements, to school accountability ratings, our state’s leaders have expected educators and students to perform increasingly well, but our teacher recruitment efforts and educator preparation standards have not kept up,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday. “Keeping our standards low in order for some alternative certification programs to maximize their profits through higher enrollment numbers is not in the best interest of teachers or students. There are a number of factors that can contribute to teacher shortages, but fears that a slightly higher GPA requirement will leave school districts with no one to hire are completely unfounded. Our goal is to increase the pool of qualified teachers, give them the tools they need to succeed before they enter the classroom and elevate the prestige of the education profession so that Texas teachers can command the compensation and respect they deserve.”

Related: Read ATPE’s press release about today’s SBOE vote.

SBEC changes course on raising minimum GPA requirement

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.

Senate Committee on Higher Education discusses teacher preparation and certification

The Senate Committee on Higher Education met Tuesday, July 22, to discuss two interim committee charges. ATPE submitted written testimony regarding the following charge:

Examine and make recommendations regarding improvements in teacher preparation and certification programs to address any misalignment with school district shortages and problems with retaining new teachers.  

The committee invited two panels of participants to testify on the above charge. The first panel consisted of Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes. Both provided the committee with a status report of educator preparation and certification in Texas.

Parades pointed to research that highlighted international comparisons and successes among countries’ educator preparation and certification programs. Based on that data, he highlighted common themes among countries with the highest performing students. Those themes included:

  • High and consistent standards for educator preparation programs.
  • A focus on attracting the highest achieving candidates to enter the field.
  • Strong teacher support.
  • Meaningful clinical training.
  • Adequate compensation.
  • And robust professional development.

He said the U.S. and Texas can do better in all areas.

Williams gave the committee state-based statistics on educator preparation and certification. He echoed some of his colleague’s comments and added his belief that the state should better align our educator preparation programs with state standards such as the TEKS. He also acknowledged the existing struggle between getting teachers in the classroom immediately because they are needed—citing a 2012-13 statistic that showed 35,800 teachers left the field while only 24,000 were new hires—versus ensuring teachers receive the standard of preparation needed to be ready for the classroom.

Williams also reported that the breakdown of students receiving educator certification in Texas during the 2012-13 year was as follows:

  • 44 percent were certified through a traditional program, and this route resulted in the highest five-year retention rate of 77 percent.
  • Those certified through alternative certification routes were 41 percent of the pool (retention rate not provided).
  • University post-baccalaureate programs accounted for about 4 percent of certifications (retention rate not provided).
  • 11 percent of new teachers came from out of state, and this route has a five-year retention rate of 61 percent.

The second panel consisted of stakeholders. Again, many of their recommendations reflected the comments made initially by Parades. All of the panelists stressed the importance of adequate clinical training prior to certification. One panelist, Superintendent of Pflugerville ISD Alex Torrez, said that the biggest challenge for struggling new teachers is the ability to manage the classroom. He added that candidates need more support after they reach the classroom, which he said should be a shared responsibility of the district and preparation programs. President of iTeach, a for-profit alternative certification program, Diann Huber, focused much of her testimony on the role and importance of field supervisors in the educator certification process.

The panelists also agreed that all programs should be held to high standards. Executive Director of Educate Texas John Fitzpatrick noted that although we have great access to educator preparation programs in Texas, we need to ensure we are not sacrificing quality. Several of the panelists suggested mandatory accreditation requirements for all programs. Fitzpatrick also commended the move by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to raise the minimum grade point average (GPA) for entrance into an educator preparation program—a move ATPE has requested and actively supported. The board will vote on final approval of that rule change next week.

Dean of the College of Education at the University of Houston Robert H. McPherson said that the biggest challenges he finds with attracting students to enter the teaching field are the perceived lack of prestige of the profession and the fact that other fields offer much higher salaries after graduation. The need to change the way education and educators are perceived was another thoroughly discussed topic.

ATPE advocates for high standards for educator preparation and certification programs in Texas and believes that raising the standards across-the-board for teacher preparation will have a positive ripple effect on the profession, leading to many of the desired outcomes expressed above, such as more prestige for the profession, better support for new teachers and adequate compensation. ATPE’s submitted testimony can be viewed here.

NCTQ’s new report on teacher preparation: What does it mean for Texas?

The National Council on Teacher Quality has released its 2014 “Teacher Prep Review,” a private study analyzing the effectiveness of many educator preparation programs around the country.

Texas universities lauded

NCTQ blog post graphic DBU

NCTQ named Dallas Baptist University as its top-ranked program in the nation for preparing elementary school teachers. (Utah-based Western Governors University was the top performer for preparation of secondary school teachers.) The report stated, “The commitment and focus on the part of these institutions, and indeed all of the institutions with Top Ranked programs, serves as a tremendous source of optimism that it is possible for all new teachers to receive the preparation needed to be classroom ready on day one.”

This year’s report studied 836 programs, including both traditional university-based educator preparation programs and alternative certification programs (ACPs). NCTQ was highly critical of alternative certification programs, especially in Texas. The report noted that Texas is the only state that allows for-profit entities to operate alternative certification programs. Of all the ACPs evaluated for the report, only one out of 85 programs around the country received an “A” grade from NCTQ; most were graded with a “D” or “F” this year.

In reviews of traditional ed prep programs, Texas universities fared better. Texas was one of three states with the most top-ranked programs according to the NCTQ study of traditional educator preparation programs. Dallas Baptist University and the University of Houston were recognized for having high-quality programs in both the elementary and secondary teacher preparation categories. Texas A&M University, the University of Houston and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi earned praise for having high-ranking ed prep programs that also offer affordable tuition.

NCTQ blog post graphics


Reform efforts

NCTQ observed that in recent years, raising the standards for educator preparation “had been largely sidelined as an issue, even though the broader issue of teacher quality had been the ‘hot’ topic in education reform for much of the decade.” The organization believes more states are starting to adopt positive changes now. For example, the report recognized Texas as one of 19 states that improved its testing of content knowledge for teacher certification candidates by requiring separate passing scores in each core subject covered by the test. ATPE spent several years advocating for precisely this change, and legislation was finally passed in 2013 to require candidates to demonstrate proficiency in each core subject level on the certification exam for multi-subject certificates. According to NCTQ, not a single state had such a requirement when it conducted its first review of ed prep programs in 2009.

There is still more work to be done. NCTQ found that only five percent of the ed prep programs studied nationwide met the organization’s standard for student teaching by ensuring that student teachers receive strong support. The University of Houston was recognized as a standout in this area, however, for its strong student teaching program.

Other findings excerpted from the national study lend support to ATPE’s ongoing advocacy efforts to raise the prestige of the education profession through more selective recruitment. The report concluded, “Three out of four programs fail even to insist that applicants be in the top half of the college-going population, a modest academic standard,” and “four out of five teacher preparation programs are weak or even failing.”

One way ATPE has worked to increase the selectivity of the profession is by urging the state to impose higher minimum GPA requirements for entrance into an educator preparation program. Texas has only required a minimum 2.5 GPA, or a 2.5 GPA in the last 60 hours of college coursework, and it has also granted programs the ability to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort entering their program from the minimum GPA requirement. ATPE recently succeeded in convincing the State Board for Educator Certification to raise Texas’ minimum GPA requirement for ed prep candidates from 2.5 to 2.75; that rule is still pending and will be up for final adoption in August, and it was mentioned in the NCTQ report.

The GPA issue is extremely important in the context of alternative certification where candidates need a certain level of expertise before entering the certification program, especially since they are placed into classrooms as teachers of record almost immediately. As NCTQ explained in its report, alternative certification was designed to provide a convenient way to put qualified individuals with subject-matter expertise into the classroom without requiring them to obtain another degree. To function ideally, NCTQ added that ACPs must provide intensive mentoring and monitoring of their candidates and impose high admission standards, especially making sure that the candidates have strong content knowledge before they ever enter the certification program. The findings on ACPs studied by NCTQ, most of which were located in Texas, were dismal:

“Alternative certification programs are not requiring that candidates demonstrate content proficiency before entering the classroom, or they use inadequate tests for that demonstration. They also do not supplement testing with transcript reviews. Only 16 percent of programs ensure that candidates ‘know their stuff.’ …By every measure, training and coaching offered to alternatively trained candidates is inadequate.”

“What accounts for the low grades in Texas?” NCTQ went on to ask. The report answered, “Clearly state regulations play a large role.” While ed prep programs always have the ability to adopt admission standards that are higher than the minimum standards required by state law, for-profit ACPs have a vested interest in keeping their standards as low as possible in order to admit more candidates and maximize profits. That is exactly why ATPE has lobbied for raising the state standards, such as the minimum GPA requirement. Not surprisingly, requiring only a minimum 2.5 GPA was one of the specific criteria NCTQ used in assigned “F” grades to the ACPs it studied for this report. Among the Texas entities receiving  “F” grades in the report were the state’s top two producers of new teachers in Texas, both of which are for-profit ACPs (A+ Texas Teachers and iTeach Texas).

Takeaways for ATPE

ATPE supports alternative routes to certification, which have become the most common pathway to the teaching profession in Texas in recent years. A growing number of our members hail from ACPs, and many have been very successful. However, as highlighted in this most recent report, the ACPs that are producing most of our state’s new teachers appear to be short-changing their graduates, leaving too many of them poorly supported and ill-prepared or to face the rigors of the classroom. Our teachers deserve the best, whether they choose traditional or alternative means of entering the profession. Teaching is a difficult and sometimes thankless job, and we owe it to our teachers to support them, especially in their first years on the job. ATPE believes that raising the standards across-the-board for teacher preparation in Texas will have a positive ripple effect on the profession, leading to more support for new teachers, increased prestige for the profession, better pay and job satisfaction for teachers and decreased vulnerability to questionable education reform tactics aiming to improve teacher quality by focusing heavily on student outcomes (using standardized test scores, for example). As we have repeatedly said, inputs matter as much as, if not more than, outputs in the equation for public education success.

NCTQ’s private study is not all-inclusive, and its methodology is hardly foolproof. We know there are some who question the basis for the organization’s rankings of university programs as well as its harsh assessment of individual ACPs. While there is certainly more data that could be collected and analyzed, we believe the report does highlight major policy issues that deserve more scrutiny in the area of educator preparation, especially with regard to alternative pathways to teaching. ATPE’s interest in raising the standards for entrance into the profession is motivated by our desire to ensure that all teachers are well-supported, that they receive the tools and training they need for success before they take charge of a classroom for the first time and that the profession is selective enough to be deemed worthy of professional compensation and respect by those who enact education laws and policies.

As described by NCTQ, “Today’s model of teacher preparation leads to widespread dissatisfaction from public school educators, aggravates the poor regard in which the field is held, and, as a consequence, ramps up interference by outsiders.” Among NCTQ’s specific recommendations for policy changes needed in Texas: “Require rigorous teacher prep program admission tests. Teacher prep programs should screen candidates for academic proficiency before admission by requiring that they earn a score in the top half of the general college-bound population on a test that is designed for that population (like the ACT, SAT or GRE). The Praxis I and similar tests designed only for teacher candidates generally assess skills at the 8th-10th grade level and are inadequate as admission tests.”

Read the full NCTQ Teacher Prep Review here.

SBEC proposes higher GPA requirement for educator preparation candidates

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin and proposed several changes to their administrative rules, which govern the education profession. The board is proposing rewrites to 19 TAC Chapters 227, 228 and 229 relating to educator preparation; some of the rewrites were prompted by the passage of House Bill (HB) 2012 last year.

Ch. 227, which outlines the minimum criteria for admission to an educator preparation program, garnered the most discussion. Board members expressed concern over the minimum GPA requirements and the number of college credit hours required in the content area in which certification is sought. ATPE testified before the board, urging them to consider raising the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75. Although the board has required a 2.5 minimum GPA, with certain exceptions, for several years now, there was no statutory requirement for a minimum GPA until last year.

HB 2012 now requires SBEC to set a minimum GPA for educator certification candidates, which can be as high as 2.75, depending on the board’s discretion. Staff members from the Texas Education Agency recommended, based on stakeholder discussions with educator preparation program directors and principals, that SBEC keep its minimum GPA rule at 2.5. After hearing our testimony  and discussing the issue at length today, the board voted to change the 2.5 GPA requirement to a minimum 2.75. Several board members, including Brad Allard, Kathryn Everest, Christie Pogue and Suzanne McCall, spoke eloquently about the need to take pride in and maintain high standards for the profession.

Under the new proposal, which will come up for a final vote by the board in August after a public comment period, exceptions in the rule will still allow teachers who cannot meet the 2.75 overall GPA to demonstrate a 2.75 GPA in their last 60 semester credit hours and also allow educator preparation programs to continue to waive the GPA requirement for up to ten percent of each cohort.

The proposed increase in the GPA requirement is a victory for ATPE and other groups that have long advocated for higher standards and more selective recruitment of teachers in Texas. Research shows that the U.S. lags in student achievement measures behind other countries that allow only top students to pursue teacher certification. Raising the standards for admission also elevates the prestige of the profession, which may also help to secure better compensation for teachers in the future.

In other business, the board approved relatively minor changes to disciplinary decision-making guidelines, current accountability ratings for educator preparation programs and standards for newly created certificates for grades 6–12 in areas of Business and Finance, Health Science, Marketing, and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.