At the Oct. 25, 2013, meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification, TCTA testified against a proposal that would require candidates who fail one section of the newly redesigned EC-6 or 4-8 Generalist certification test to retake the entire exam. TCTA cautioned that such a requirement could act as a huge disincentive for candidates considering Generalist certification, and that such a requirement was out of sync with other types of professional licensing exams, such as those for CPAs and real estate agents.

The proposal will affect not only new teachers, but also current teachers who seek to acquire Generalist certificates. (The U.S. Department of Education requires teachers who hold grade 4-8 subject-specific certificates and who are assigned to fifth grade to also hold a Generalist certificate in certain situations.)

The TEA proposal was part of a broader agenda discussion item: the implementation of HB 2012, a broad teacher quality bill containing this as one of its provisions, and HB 2318. Both require the EC-6 and 4-8 Generalist exams to be designed so that the four core subject areas (math, ELA, science and social studies) are independently assessed and a passing score is required for each section.

Concerns about retakes, assignment implications

During the test redesign process, TEA initially proposed that candidates who fail a section of the test be required to retake the entire exam. The reasons cited were the testing system’s inability to track candidates’ scores if they were allowed to retake sections of the exam, and also consistency with what TEA interpreted as legislative intent.

TEA also initially proposed that the new EC-6 Generalist certificate allow a candidate to teach only the four core subjects. A candidate would have to take the additional, applicable certification exams in other subjects, such as health, music and PE, to teach those subjects. (The current EC-6 Generalist exam allows candidates to teach the entire elementary curriculum, a rule that is in line with the self-contained classroom structure common in most elementary schools.)

TCTA testified that these two logistical proposals by TEA would actively dissuade potential candidates from pursuing Generalist certificates. TCTA also questioned the wisdom of requiring applicants to retake entire exams when they might have failed only one section of the exam, when that is not the practice for many other licensing exams. Although acknowledging TEA's concerns about the testing system’s capacity to track the scores of candidates if they were allowed to retake sections of the exam they had failed, TCTA pointed out that logistical concerns such as this are outweighed by the negative impact such a requirement was likely to have in the field.

Some SBEC members echoed TCTA's concerns. One board member pointed out that testing time for the redesigned test is now five hours because of the legislative requirement that each of the four core subject areas be rigorously covered in the Generalist exam. The board member noted that even the test developer was concerned this lengthy testing time pushed the limits of cognitive ability, and said that is even more reason not to require candidates to retake the whole exam each time they fail one section.

In response to these concerns expressed, TEA staff responded that they would meet with the test contractor to revisit the issue and discuss other potential solutions.

Concerns about transition time

Representatives of various educator preparation programs also expressed concerns about the short amount of transition time TEA proposed for the phase-out of the current Generalist exams and the implementation of the redesigned exams. (TEA proposed that the current Generalist exams would be administered for the last time in summer 2014, with candidates seeking certification based on those exams receiving an additional year to complete all the requirements for certification by Aug. 31, 2015.)

Several witnesses testified that this timeline was too short for candidates to realistically complete all requirements, and they suggested it be changed to two years.

After discussion about the fact that, although the general effective date for HB 2012 was Sept. 1, 2013, this particular provision does not contain a deadline by which the redesigned exam must be in effect, the board asked that the transition timeline be reconsidered to allow for additional time.

TEA staff is expected to report back to SBEC on these issues at its February 2014 meeting.

Changes to CPE rules

The board also preliminarily adopted proposed amendments to SBEC rules on continuing professional education hours, incorporating changes required by HB 642. The law requires that no more than 25 percent of the required CPE hours for classroom teachers, principals and school counselors include instruction in collecting and analyzing information, recognizing early warning indicators for dropouts, and educating diverse student populations.

According to TEA, the form that educators use for recording CPE hours will be revised to reflect these new requirements; however, due to the way the statute is worded, there is no authorization for TEA to mandate that any educator obtain a certain percentage of CPE hours in any given topic.