Questions always arise when standards are changed, especially when it concerns those who teach our children.
In July, the Alabama State Board of Education approved a change to teaching standards in an effort to combat the statewide teacher shortage.
With the announcement came questions. Namely, do the new standards, which call for a lower score on the Praxis exam, mean lower teaching standards in Alabama?
According to many officials of local school districts, the answer is no.
HOW DO THE NEW TEACHING STANDARDS WORK?
While the new standards do allow for a lower score on the Praxis exam (a teacher certification exam), it doesn't mean the standards have been "reduced."
"I believe that the new certification guidelines for new teachers implements a sliding scale that allows for a slightly lower score on the Praxis exam as long as the student has a higher GPA," said Matt Akin, Ph.D., superintendent of Gulf Shores City Schools (GSCS).
This was done as a solution to potential teachers passing in every other area – except when it came to the Praxis. One point below the needed score could cost the state a teacher, even when that student excelled in every other aspect, officials said.
"They've created a sliding scale," said Joe Blevins, HR director, Orange Beach City Schools (OBCS). "If your Praxis score isn't where it's supposed to be to pass, then your GPA has to be higher. We ran across this before, someone would pass everything else, but for some reason that test just got them. Not everyone is good at taking tests."
WHAT ELSE HAS CHANGED TO ADDRESS THE STATEWIDE TEACHER SHORTAGE?
Blevins said some of the changes are "common sense," such as making it easier for teachers who hold a certificate in one state to continue teaching if they move to another state. He said in the past, out-of-state certified teachers coming to Alabama would have to jump through multiple hoops to receive a certificate to teach in Alabama. Now, he said, it's much easier to fill out paperwork and show proof of certification in another state to begin teaching in Alabama.
ARE THERE OTHER AVENUES TO BECOME A TEACHER?
Sometimes, a professional who has been working in a specific field gets the itch to teach. They may not hold a teaching degree or certification, but as long as they have a bachelor's degree, they can pursue an alternative teacher certification in Alabama.
One commonly used with the Baldwin County Public School system is Teacher Pathways, said Tiffany Wilson, Ph.D., HR director, Baldwin County Board of Education.
"If a veterinarian who wanted to teach after a great career as a vet had all the credentials, we would be able to employee them and put them on the pathway towards certification," she said. "Or if someone has a bachelor's in English and wants to become an English teacher, they can look at our website and see all the different certificate paths outlined. It's always been that way, that's not a new thing for someone to be able to do that.
"What has happened recently, mainly because of the statewide teacher shortage, is they've revised some of those pathways, like the one where teachers have to pass a Praxis," she added.
In BCPS, Wilson said there are internal criteria and requirements for those on a Teacher Pathway.
"We make sure that we monitor the people on these different pathways, and they get periodic emails and reminders, like, 'You have to finish step A by this date,' and then what happens is if they don't finish the requirements, we won't keep them as a teacher," Wilson said.