Teacher credentialing commission talks reading instruction, legislation and early learning

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing met Aug. 5–6 to discuss key items related to new Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA) subtests, legislation and early learning.

Noting the absence of CTC Chair Tine Sloane as a result of fire evacuation orders, the commission Executive Director Mary Vixie Sandy noted that while there is excitement in the air for the start of a new school year, there are also challenges that schools and educators are facing that will likely impact the coming year.

“August is typically a time of excitement for the start of school … but it’s the start of school under conditions that I fear are becoming normal,” Sandy said. “We have forest fires breathing down the state driving teachers from their homes and maybe threatening the beginning of school. We’ve got surges in a pandemic that has become a new norm in our life. And these things, I think, are bringing tension into this time of normal excitement, but we’re still moving forward. It’s going to be an exciting year in ways that we have never anticipated.”

Among the many efforts moved forward, the CTC determined passing scores for the new RICA subtests. Once a single, long test that examinees passed or failed as a whole, the RICA’s written exam has been split into three subtests to make the scheduling of exams more efficient and to minimize the costs associated with retaking the test should an examinee not pass one or two sections. During the first day of the meeting, the CTC approved the passing scores for each of the new subtests.

One comment during the presentation that suggested the RICA was out of date was cause for alarm among some commissioners. “That’s of great concern to me, that we’re still having people take a test that’s not current,” said Commissioner and CSBA President Dr. Susan Heredia, who noted that during her time in the Graduate and Professional Studies in Education Division at California State University, Sacramento, students received significant support to help them pass the RICA, which then took time away from the general reading class.

To clarify, David DeGuire, director of the Professional Services Division, said exams are always going to lag behind the student standards adopted by the State Board of Education — which adopted the new frameworks for English language acquisition and English language development in 2019. “So, when we’re saying that the test is out of date — these new frameworks are out there and we need to update the RICA to reflect those,” DeGuire explained. Executive Director Vixie Sandy noted that the Commission may have opportunities as soon as next year to begin their review of the content specifications, with an anticipated completion date of 2025. [Editor’s Note: The CDE website indicates that the last time the ELD Framework was approved was 2014].

The test, which is required to earn a credential to teach elementary school and special education, has been a major hurdle for many aspiring teachers across the state. One-third of candidates who took the test failed the first time, according to state data covering 2012 through 2017. Many choose not to retake it — ultimately moving away from the profession at a time when the state is struggling to address its persistent teacher shortage.

While she said she appreciates the difficulties in making changes to a test like this, Commissioner Annamarie Francois echoed Heredia’s concerns “about the utility of using an outdated test to determine whether or not a candidate can move forward. I’m concerned about the messaging around that, because in my mind, it reinforces exams as gatekeepers rather than exams as assessing the knowledge, skills and ability of candidates need in order to be successful in classroom settings.”

 “Oppose Unless Amended” position taken on AB 898

The commission also received a legislative update that included a recommendation to take an “Oppose Unless Amended” position on Assembly Bill 898 (Lee, D-San Jose). A somewhat technical bill from a criminal court perspective, it raises problematic issues with how the commission can properly review a teaching candidate’s criminal background and whether it will impact the candidate’s fitness for credentialing.

In an effort to ensure the proper transfer of criminal records between multiple counties, especially as it relates to the expungement of one’s record, the bill prohibits the redisclosure of those records. This prohibition includes disclosing these records with the CTC. In doing so, this restricts the ability of the CTC to receive and comprehensively review a candidate’s criminal record and whether it impacts his or her ability to hold a credential and teach students.

The amendments the commission is seeking would exempt the CTC from the disclosure prohibition. This would allow it to continue to fulfill its statutory mandate of determining whether a teaching candidate’s criminal record may bar him or her from becoming a teacher.

Early education training pilots

The commission received an update on the work of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Teaching Performance Assessment and the Program Quality Peer Review Design Teams to improve preparation and licensure of the early childhood workforce. Currently, the Child Development Permit (CDP) is not subject to standards or any form of state-level program review or accreditation and does not include any form of performance assessment to support development of candidate competence prior to licensure. The ECE pilots currently underway at 55 two- and four-year institutions of higher education will help assure that candidates are being well-prepared and supported to meet competencies through multiple learning opportunities, practice, and program-based assessments within their coursework and field experiences/practicum.

If the piloting of the PDG-R tools is successful, then the CTC may shift the evaluation of applications for a CDP from a reliance on “seat-time” and transcript analysis to a competency-based system of preparation and program quality review. This shift in focus is called for in the state’s Master Plan for Early Learning and Care and would bring the CDP into alignment with all other credential areas.

During public comment, Deborah Stipek, the Judy Koch Professor of Education in the Stanford Graduate School of Education, said additional resources would be needed to accomplish the goals the commission was attempting to achieve.

“I’m delighted to see all the ways the commission is taking the lead to improve the preparation and quality of teachers working with young children,” said Stipek, who has also worked with the CTC on various taskforces. “But I want to make sure the commission understands what an incredibly huge lift this is for higher ed. The current resources and the way most programs are organized — they cannot realistically come close to preparing teachers to meet these expectations.”

Stipek said she would like to see a TK-3 credential option for teacher candidates considering a career in early education.

Commission member Kathryn Williams Browne expressed agreement, noting that the 24 units required for the teacher permit is also insufficient. “When you think about what it takes to develop a beginning elementary teacher, we know that developing a beginning early childhood teacher is on the same par,” she said. “So, the suggestion of several of looking at doing this work alongside the development of a PreK-3 or PreK-2 credential I think is absolutely essential for the early childhood workforce and its teacher preparation. I want us to look at that carefully.”