Would providing a way for teachers, schools and districts to work around the General Knowledge certification test – as HB 7061 proposes to do – hurt student learning? I don’t think so, and here is why…

If I were still young enough to have kids in Florida’s public K-12 schools, I would want their physics teachers to know their physics and how to teach it effectively, their math teachers to be strong in math content and to understand how best to help my kids learn math, and their English teachers to be strong in understanding and teaching language arts.

Teaching candidates must pass two state certification exams that arguably make sure that teachers know what they need to help their students learn effectively. They also have to pass one – called the General Knowledge test – that almost certainly doesn’t. A legislative proposal being considered by the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday would deemphasize the General Knowledge test, and the subcommittee should recommend it favorably.

At present, each teacher candidate in Florida must take three exams administered by the Florida Department of Education. One is the subject certification test (A physics teacher candidate must take the physics certification test, which has historically had a 60% passing rate – and we are all OK with that). In place of subject certification tests, elementary and early childhood teaching candidates must pass tests that are specific to those certifications but which cover all subjects appropriate for those grade levels.

The second test is something called the Professional Education test. It covers pedagogical and curriculum issues that presumably all subjects have in common. Nobody has proposed touching that, either.

The third test is the General Knowledge test. That is where there are two legislative proposals for modification. One is in SB 7070, the omnibus Senate PreK-12 leadership bill. That bill would extend the time for temporarily certified teachers to pass the General Knowledge test from the present one year to three years. Right now, temporarily certified teachers must pass the General Knowledge test in their first year, even though their temporary certificates are valid for three years. Extending the time to pass the General Knowledge test to three years should be an obvious step.

The second legislative proposal on the General Knowledge test, which is contained in HB 7061 (which started its legislative journey with a bipartisan unanimous vote by the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee and which will be considered by the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday) would allow teachers to skip the General Knowledge test if they successfully complete a mentoring program. I like this better than the Senate proposal, although I’d prefer killing the General Knowledge test altogether.

In math at least, the General Knowledge test examines knowledge at the level of College Algebra and what we would call a baby statistics course. A good high school grad should be able to blow the test away, in my opinion. But for someone who has been working in the arts or some field like that for a decade or so after graduating from college and who wants to change to a K-12 teaching career, the math test can be insurmountable. When you hear about the high casualty rate of one of the certification exams, that is the sort of thing that’s happening most. One thousand Florida teachers who were teaching in 2017-18 on temporary certificates (which are good for three years) lost their jobs last summer because they couldn’t pass the General Knowledge test.

School districts are spending substantial resources trying to get their temporarily certified teachers through the General Knowledge test (although I haven’t heard of a single case where a physics teacher had trouble with the General Knowledge test). Those are resources that could be spent elsewhere – for example doing the sort of innovative recruiting that Orange County is doing (going directly to science departments to talk with students who are not in teaching majors). That’s why I think we should terminate the General Knowledge test.

The closest we can get to terminating the General Knowledge test this year is the proposal contained in HB 7061. This proposal should be included in the Legislature’s final education package this session so that teachers and districts can spend a little more effort and resources on doing what actually helps students learn better.

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