COVID-19 restrictions halts students from receiving state required teacher certificate

In the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage and the COVID-19 pandemic, more teachers are needed as school districts head into remote learning this fall.

A group of graduate students studying to become teachers is eager to lend a hand. However, their offer to help may be halted due to a technicality with a state-required assessment.

In order to become a teacher candidate, the state requires completing an assessment called edTPA. It’s needed in order to receive a teacher residency certificate. Due to COVID-19 restrictions at school districts across Washington, graduate students like Naomi Maxwell and Zarina Aglion can’t finish the assessment.

“The edTPA is the only assessment that is remaining and it’s one that just isn’t possible to complete right now. So, we’re asking for a waiver so that we can obtain residency certificates and go on to teaching and focusing our time and energy on the needs of our students,” said Maxwell, a graduate student at University of Washington in Tacoma.

“We are in a strange time. And because of that we as educators are really at the forefront of what’s happening. We’re being asked to continue to teach, we’re being asked to support our children. And with these requirements, we’re not able to do that,” said Aglion, a graduate student at University of Washington in Tacoma.

About 30 teacher candidates wrote a letter to Governor Jay Inslee’s office and the Washington State Legislature. The group asked to eliminate the edTPA requirement. As part of their argument, they used the Washington Supreme Court’s waiver on the bar exam for law students as an example.

“The Supreme Court granted that waiver to them. And, we as a cohort of teachers believe the same. We’ve completed every other requirement and thus we should also receive that reprieve that the law students have received as well,” said Aglion.

In a written statement, members of the governor’s office said they are, “waiting on further recommendations of a subcommittee of the Professional Educator Standards Board,” on how to move forward. The statement continued, “The governor could not eliminate this requirement through his emergency power as it is in statute—but could waive a statute for one month. That would not be sufficient to address the issue.”

Representatives from the standards board said PESB “does not have the authority to eliminate the assessment requirement. It is required by the Legislature. PESB does, however, have the authority to determine the tests, and set vendor contracts, and cut scores. Our agency convened an educator assessment system workgroup tasked with examining the inequitable barriers and challenges that assessments may create for educator candidates. The workgroup has put forward recommendations for a coherent assessment system to ensure Washington has a properly credentialed and diverse teaching workforce.”

Washington is one of about 20 states in the country that require the edTPA. Pearson is the company that oversees the assessment.

Scott Overland, a Pearson representative, said in a written statement, “Pearson supports consistent, fair, and reliable standards for aspiring teachers and believes it is appropriate to provide flexibility for candidates to meet these standards during COVID challenges.”

As the waiver request is being reviewed, the teacher candidates said they’re asking for the future of students' education to be considered.

“We really would like to just focus on the needs of students and meeting them on the best way that we can. And, we’d like to see this assessment waived so that it’s not thrown into the mix of other issues that are a lot more important,” said Maxwell.

“Our goal is to support our students and to help them grow. And when we have this requirement that’s still a burden for us and that’s still on our mind, but not going to be able to put that 100 percent effort into supporting our students,” said Aglion.