Pennsylvania Waives Basic Skills Requirements For Aspiring Teachers

Aspiring Pennsylvania teachers will have testing requirements waived for the next three years as the state grapples with teacher shortages.

By Kari Apted | Published

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Teacher shortages are a real problem nationwide, pressing state legislators to come up with new solutions to help fill open teaching positions. In Pennsylvania, they decided to waive the basic skills test requirement for college students pursuing degrees in education. For at least the next three years, potential Pennsylvania teachers won’t have to worry about proving their proficiency in reading, math, and writing on the test, nor will they have to meet that requirement through a different process.

Officials plan to study whether the expensive standardized test actually improved the quality of teaching candidates or if it simply led to many students choosing another profession. According to an article in The Inquirer, the number of college students completing Pennsylvania teacher education programs has dropped 53% since 2011. In-state graduates who move on to get their certification are even fewer, approximately one-third the number just a decade ago.

In an ironic parallel to student performance, where certain smart kids simply don’t test well, some teaching candidates with excellent grades struggle to pass portions of the standardized basic skills test. Pennsylvania teacher Emma Lambert had a 3.6 GPA when she graduated in 2019, but it took multiple attempts to pass the math and reading portions of the test. She told The Inquirer, “We teach kids that they are more than a test, but it did not feel that way to me.”

Education officials are also concerned that the test fees also drive potential Pennsylvania teachers away from the profession. The student has to pay $150 each time they take the test. For Lambert, that totaled over $3,000—including fees she paid a tutor who finally helped her conquer the reading portion of the exam.

Aspiring Pennsylvania teachers have had access to test workarounds for years, such as being exempt if they had high enough college entrance exam scores on the SAT or ACT. Students could also waive the exam by taking college courses with embedded basic skills content and scoring a “B” or higher. And during the height of the pandemic, the state temporarily waived the testing requirement, resulting in hundreds more candidates choosing the profession.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, Pennsylvania is joining a growing pool of states that are backing away from elementary teacher licensure tests, indicating that the exam may not be a true test of teacher aptitude. Earlier this year, Arizona cut teacher credentials to attract more educators to open positions. A Reddit thread about the Pennsylvania teachers’ test waiver drew comments from educators both in favor of and opposed to the change.

Educators in favor of ending the Pennsylvania teacher test requirement stated that there are better ways of judging whether a teacher is qualified for the job, and questioned if the basic skills test had anything to do with teacher shortages. A former teacher identified as jessiebeex said, “I’m not sold on basic skills being a definitive way to separate quality educators from those who are not. However, it’s definitely a sign of things to come as relaxing this requirement will not solve the core issues that are creating shortages.”

Pennsylvania teachers

Still, a large number of teachers appear to support keeping standardized testing in place. A certified educator with the handle kdizzle65 said, “…removing the basic skills assessment is a mistake. It’s a super easy test that honestly many highschool kids could pass.”

Another, identified as Tyrael459 said, “I know standardized tests always get a bad rap, but I do support having tests in place for skilled professions. Some prospective teachers do need to brush up on certain skills and knowledge bases, especially those that may have been in other careers rather than coming straight out of their college teaching program.”

John Ward, dean of the college of education at Kutztown University said that there aren’t any research studies that prove the basic skills requirement test has led to better Pennsylvania teachers. While it’s hard to argue that having basic skills to teach math, reading, and writing should be part of an educator’s toolbox, there are other skills required to be a good teacher. Good classroom management, quick decision-making, and an ability to detect and assist students with learning difficulties are just as important even if they can’t be measured by a standardized test.