Politics & Government

Teachers who fail their licensing exams could stay in the classroom under Senate bill

Are math questions too difficult on teacher accreditation exams in NC?

Luke Reinke, assistant professor of mathematics education at UNC Charlotte breaks down test questions that teachers are struggling with on accreditation exams in North Carolina.
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Luke Reinke, assistant professor of mathematics education at UNC Charlotte breaks down test questions that teachers are struggling with on accreditation exams in North Carolina.

North Carolina teachers could get additional time from state lawmakers to pass the licensing exams needed to keep their jobs and remain in the classroom.

The N.C. Senate voted 46-2 on Monday night to allow school districts to issue three-year, non-renewable limited licenses to their teachers who are in danger of losing their jobs because they failed their licensing exams. Lawmakers said that districts, particularly rural ones, are worried about losing good teachers who aren’t able to pass their required licensure exams.

The bill also gives a one-year extension — to June 30, 2020 — for elementary school teachers and special education teachers whose initial licenses were set to expire in June. Hundreds of teachers have complained they were unable to pass the new Pearson math exam that the state had been requiring.

“This is another arrow in the quiver to help with the teacher shortage in rural North Carolina,” said Sen. Tom Mcinnis, a Republican from Richmond County and one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Senate Bill 219 now goes to the House.

The bill is an outgrowth of how the state changed the process for granting licenses to new teachers.

Before 2014, prospective teachers had to pass their licensing exams before they could start work, the Charlotte Observer previously reported. Now teachers can get an initial license and have two years to pass their licensing exams to get a continuing license.

In March, the State Board of Education agreed to accept the use of a new math test for elementary school teachers. But even with the state board vote, it still left districts with teachers who’d be forced out of the classroom.

McInnis said that one county in his district has 17 teachers who will lose their jobs at the end of the school year unless action is taken. He said another county in his district is using seven permanent substitute teachers because they can’t find enough teachers.

For those teachers who failed the licensing exam, their school district can issue them a one-time, three-year license that would allow them to only teach in that district. The district superintendent and the teacher’s principal would have to sign an affidavit to the state board certifying that the person is an effective teacher.

The affidavit would also say that the district is encouraging the teacher to continue to work toward getting a continuing license.

The new license would be an option for school districts and charter schools in more than 80 of the state’s 100 counties. Only public schools in the state’s most affluent counties — such as Wake, Durham, Johnston, Orange, Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus, New Hanover and Buncombe — would not be eligible for the new license.

“This is an important bill to help individual counties or LEAs (local education agencies) by their own choice choose these folks to be in their classrooms,” said Sen. Rick Horner, a Nash County Republican.

The bill also will give teachers more time to complete their exams. The bill would give them up to the third year of their initial license to pass, an additional year longer than now allowed.

“It will change the way we think about how we deal with licensure in this state,” Tom Tomberlin, director of educator recruitment and support at the state Department of Public Instruction, told the N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board on Monday.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat, said Monday she realizes there’s a teacher shortage. But she raised concerns about having uncertified teachers in the classroom, especially in low-wealth districts.

“We must focus on the children more than anything else,” said Robinson, who voted against the bill.

McInnis responded by citing the financial incentive for principals to make sure that they’re only keeping effective teachers. Principals get state bonuses based on their school’s test scores.

“The performance of those children is paramount, and if the children are not making growth or exceeding growth or not making good grades, that principal’s performance — his bonus or her bonus — is directly related to that,” McInnis said. “They’re not going to let one teacher ruin the academic performance of a school by leaving a deadwood person in there that’s not performing.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.