July 10, 2008

Certification Process Frustrates Teachers

By Andrea Natekar, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

Jul. 10--Teacher Karen Batson moved from Idaho to Arizona last year and found a job teaching math and science at Scottsdale's Sierra Vista Academy.

But Batson soon discovered that, despite a college degree in elementary education and a teaching certificate in Idaho, she wasn't considered qualified to teach in her new state.

Instead, she would have to pass four state exams: middle school math, middle school science, elementary professional knowledge and elementary subject knowledge.

"This is ridiculous. ... Why did I even major in elementary education?" Batson wrote to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne earlier this year. "Why is it so difficult to be a teacher in this state? I love my job, I love my students, and probably won't be rehired next year because I'm no longer certified because I only had one year to get all of the above done."

Batson was just one of many teachers Horne said wrote to him to express frustration with the state's current certification process.

Now, Horne and some lawmakers have come forward to criticize what they say are needless roadblocks the state puts in front of potential teachers who move to the state.

Arizona requires teachers to take an exam, called an Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessment, to prove knowledge of each subject area they teach. Meanwhile, the federal government has said it will consider a teacher highly qualified to teach a subject area as long as he or she has at least 24 college credit hours in the subject area.

So while teachers could still be considered "highly qualified" by the federal government, as required by the No Child Left Behind law, they could still not be certified to teach in Arizona until they can pass one -- or more -- state exams that cost $70 each.

"Teachers were complaining that they had to take this proficiency exam when they already had taken substantial credit hours in the subject area for us, and it seemed redundant to us that they would have to pay this $70 to take the test," said Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, who sponsored legislation that would have aligned the state standards with those of the federal government. "It seemed like even more hoops to jump through at this time when we are trying to attract more teachers."

But his legislation failed to garner enough support from state lawmakers this year, though some school district officials said they would have welcomed the change.

"This would have been something we clearly supported," said Janet Seegren, assistant superintendent for human resources in the Tempe Union High School District. "It's been frustrating at times for us and for individuals who teach in our district when there are different sets of standards they have to meet ... If it's a national standard, then why shouldn't it also be our state standard?"

But John Wright, president of the state's largest teachers union, the Arizona Education Association, lobbied against Anderson's bill, saying it would have lowered teaching standards and professionalism.

"There's nothing in there about when those credit hours were taken, or if it is from an accredited university or college," Wright said. "That was a dilution of our standards."

And a teaching shortage is no excuse, he said. "There's no other profession that would lower or water down its standards because of the labor market," he said. "If you didn't have enough physicians in a particular community, you would try to entice them by giving them some kind of reward. ... For us to say, 'We don't have enough teachers, let's make it easier to become a teacher,' it's counterproductive."


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