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Florida lawmakers vote to help teachers struggling to pass state teacher exam

Changes come 2yrs after we first questioned test
Posted at 1:29 PM, Apr 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 09:32:22-04

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida lawmakers in the House on Tuesday agreed, it’s time to help teachers struggling to pass Florida’s mandated teacher licensing exam. Last week, the Senate approved the bill, CS/SB 7070, which eases the pathway to teaching for candidates who are repeatedly failing the General Knowledge section of the certification exam.

Florida Teachers: Failing and Frustrated

For two years, we’ve documented the frustrations of teachers and aspiring one who have met all the demands in the classroom but have repeatedly failed to pass the General Knowledge (GK) section of Florida’s Teacher Certification Exam. The battery of four exams tests a teacher’s general knowledge in core subjects including math, English and reading.

In 2015, the test was made tougher but passing rates fell up to 30%. The dramatic increase in failure rates forced teacher terminations and leading educators from Florida school districts, colleges and lawmakers to respond. Many have come up with their own theories on why so many continue to repeatedly fail the test. Some question the relevancy and validity of the questions. Others are suspect of Pearson Inc, the controversial testing giant who is paid to administer and scores the exams in Florida.

Up until this month, examinees were charged an additional $20 on top of the base fee of $130 to take the tests again . Even if a candidate had to take one section of the GK test again, they were charged for all four.

Last month, the Board of Education agreed to lower costs of the exams. Earlier this year, we spoke with Republican Senator Byron Donalds of Naples who co-sponsored the bill to revise the rules on certification. “We want to make sure the people who are seeing gains in the classroom can stay in the classroom because they’re getting the job done,” he told us.

Read CS/SB7070

The bill, which now goes to the Governor for a final signature, will not only give teachers additional time to take and pass the General Knowledge test, it also gives schools the authority to keep teachers who haven’t passed the test but who have been deemed “highly effective” by their principals.
The certification adjustments were filed in bills that address teacher bonuses and school vouchers. While those areas of the bills prompted a lot of debate in Tallahassee, discussion about certification changes didn’t raise much discussion.

Scroll down for a timeline of videos detailing our search for answers

Annette Sloane is currently a substitute reading teacher who has been struggling to pass the math section of the exam. To date, she’s taken and failed the test 20 times. “It’s crazy,” she said but adds the changes will help. “3 years, that’s better” she said. “The first year you’re overwhelmed with stuff, especially if you’re a new teacher.”

School districts around the state are also applauding the changes after watching good teachers go. Dr. Angela Pruitt, who oversees hiring for the Lee County school district, met with lawmakers before session to discuss the need for changes. She offered ideas on how to ease restrictions including the new measure that allows schools keep teachers with proven records in the classroom. “I’m very happy. It gives us the ability to maintain some of those great teachers who may not be able to pass a single test,” she said.

But critics like Paula Haigis, a former math teacher who now devotes herself to helping teachers prepare for the test, believes the problem may be the tests. “I’m not sure that’s going to be as productive as lawmakers think because you have to question what you’re really extending the time on.” Others question is easing the pathway for teachers will allow less qualified teachers into Florida classrooms.

Lawmakers say these changes are just a first step but one that’s needed in a state struggling not just to find teachers but keep them here.

Take a look back at our search for answers

We first brought the issue to then, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, back in 2017.

That same year, at a teacher hearing in Orlando where two teachers were challenging the state on their results, we tried to talk to Post Secondary Assessment Bureau Chief Phil Canto.

In 2018, We tried once again, to talk to Education Commissioner Pam Stewart with little success.

At the first open meeting in Tallahassee where they were finally discussing the certification issues, we tried to talk to Phil Canto again after he presented to the Education Committee.

After a press conference earlier this year, newly minted Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, gave us his thoughts and the directives he's been given concerning the issue.

At that same press conference, Governor Ron DeSantis addressed these issues and promised that they were looking into it.

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