Politics & Government

NC teachers in danger of losing their jobs soon could get licensing help from lawmakers

Are math questions too difficult on teacher accreditation exams in NC?

Luke Reinke, assistant professor of mathematics education at UNC Charlotte breaks down test questions that teachers are struggling with on accreditation exams in North Carolina.
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Luke Reinke, assistant professor of mathematics education at UNC Charlotte breaks down test questions that teachers are struggling with on accreditation exams in North Carolina.

Hundreds of North Carolina teachers are in danger of losing their jobs at the end of June unless they can pass a licensure exam or state lawmakers take action to let them stay in the classroom.

Many teachers have been unable to pass a required math exam to get their teaching license, with the deadline for some educators coming in less than three weeks. On Wednesday, the state House unanimously approved a bill giving teachers more time to pass the exam and to allow school districts to issue special teaching licenses to educators who’ve failed the tests.

“What these modifications will do will help our HR departments be able to hire and keep hired teachers in relation to their licensing issues,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican and co-chairman of the House Education Committee.

Senate Bill 219 now returns to the Senate, which had overwhelmingly backed a previous version of the legislation. Groups such as the N.C. Association of School Administrators are urging lawmakers to give quick approval.

Because of how time sensitive the issue is, the bill gives the State Board of Education emergency powers to create rules to carry out the legislation.

The bill is an outgrowth of how the state changed the process for granting licenses to new teachers.

Before 2014, prospective teachers had to pass their licensing exams before they could start work, the Charlotte Observer previously reported. Now teachers can get an initial license and have two years to pass their licensing exams to get a continuing license.

But elementary school teachers and special education teachers have complained about the math exam from Pearson that the state was requiring them to pass. School district leaders have warned that they’re in danger of losing good teachers who are having problems passing the test.

In March, the state board agreed to accept the use of a new math test for teachers. But even with the state board vote, it still left districts with teachers who’d be forced out of the classroom.

Under the bill, beginning teachers whose licenses are set to expire this month because they couldn’t meet licensure requirements will get a one-year extension to June 30, 2020.

The legislation also allows school districts to issue a one-time, three-year license to any of their teachers who’ve been unable to meet state licensure requirements. The license would only be good for that particular district.

As part of the limited license, the district superintendent and the teacher’s principal would have to sign an affidavit to the state board certifying that the person is an effective teacher.

The House version of the bill would allow all school districts and charter schools to issue the limited license. The Senate version limited the license to smaller and rural counties where lawmakers said the need was more acute than in affluent districts.

Other provisions in the bill include:

It gives teachers up to the third year of their initial license to pass, an additional year longer than now allowed.

It creates a three-year, non-renewable transitional license that can be issued to teachers who are already licensed in another state.

It lowers the number of years required to get a lifetime teaching license from 50 years of experience down to 30 years.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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