TAMPA, Fla. -- As Florida schools prepare to fill next year's vacancies, thousands of aspiring Florida teachers continue their battle just to get in the classroom.
In 2015, a Florida Department of Education (FDOE) spokesperson said the Florida Teacher Certification Exam (FTCE) — the state's mandatory licensing exam — was made more rigorous in order to better align with tougher student tests. Some of the changes included raising the score for a passing grade.
For more than a year, we've been following the stories of
promising young teachers who excelled in college but have repeatedly failed Florida’s teacher licensing exam.
But in the last year-an-a-half, active teachers with proven records in the classroom have been terminated because they couldn't pass the FTCE. t
When asked about the unprecedented failure rates resulting from the revised tests in 2017, a state spokesperson said FDOE "anticipated" the drop in pass scores, adding scores typically "increase over time."
But more than a year later, and three years after the state implemented changes to the tests, teachers are still failing to pass the FTCE.
According to 2017 pass/fail rates, pass rates for elementary math (first-time attempts) was 61 percent last year — up just hair from 2016, but still down nearly 25 percent since before the test was revised.
Passage rates for General Knowledge math stand at 57 percent for the third year in a row, and elementary Language Arts remained static with a 54 percent passage rate. Both of these rates represent a 20 to more than 30 percent drop in passage rates since the test was made more rigorous in 2015.
The increase in failure rates on the exams have impacted virtually every level of Florida’s education system. Local school districts are being forced to let go of teachers who are teaching with a temporary teaching certificate until they pass the test — even if the teacher is deemed a highly effective teacher.
Colleges and universities across the state are also dealing with lower enrollment in College of Education programs and graduating fewer students. Graduates of many education programs can’t get their degree until they pass the state’s licensing exam.
“It’s an issue. It’s been an issue for 3 years now and I don’t see it changing,” the University of South Florida's College of Education Associate Dean Dr. David Allsopp said.
By the end of this past spring semester, nearly a quarter of education students had yet to pass portions of the General Knowledge part of the exam.
“That’s a lot of teachers, potential teachers who aren’t able to become teachers because they can’t pass,” Allsopp said.
The college has been trying to help students better prepare for the exam by offering study boot camps, and recently started offering online test prep courses.
Alllsopp says the problem lies with the FTCE, not the students. USF analyzed student test scores on the General Knowledge part of the exam with program evaluations. Preliminary data from the study showed no correlation between the state test and student quality as a teacher.
"It showed there's not a connection between whether I pass the GKT the first time, second time, third time or fourth time and my quality as a teacher," Allsopp said.
The state doesn't appear to be concerned about the low passage rates. When asked for comment on the 2017 pass/fail rates, a FDOE spokesperson responded for comment with a month-old press release that touted Florida student progress in some grades as the most improved nationwide according to test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
“Every student deserves to have high-quality educators. In Florida, we have taken steps to ensure that, as we raised standards for students, teacher certification exams also became more rigorous, ensuring newly certified teachers have the necessary skills and knowledge. This commitment to high expectations has contributed to Florida students’ outstanding performance,” the spokesperson added in an email.
“Putting an emphasis on one or two ... initiatives that might be attributing to whatever success ... there is doesn't make much sense," Allsopp said in response to FDOE's statment. “There are a lot of factors that play a role in an individual student's success. Is a test the only determiner? I don’t think so.”
“Those are two separate issues. Are we saying those who are passing are providing better outcomes?” asked state representative Robert Asencio (D, Miami-Dade), who also didn't buy the state's response.
Asencio previously introduced legislation calling for an independent task force to ensure the validity of the test, and has also called for better study guides and lower costs.
While his bill never went anywhere, Asencio isn't giving up.
“It's unfair, it's unfair to have people fail and leave them with the uncertainty of not really knowing why they failed,” he said.
Or, as the latest test results show, why the state does not appear to be doing much to help them.
“It’s not unexpected,” said Allsopp. “You got to do something in order to make it better.”
State efforts to help teachers pay for the tests have also failed. Money that would have helped some examinees pay to take and re-take the exam was part of a budget package submitted by the FL Dept. of Education but was not approved by the legislature.
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