• New changes aim to help thousands of struggling educators pass mandatory test to teach

    By: Alicia Tarancon , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Local schools are dealing with serious teacher shortages but an Action News Jax investigation has found thousands of prospective teachers are being kept out of the classroom because they can't pass a mandatory test to become fully licensed.    

    Brooke Smith just finished her first year OF teaching music at a charter school in Clay County.

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    "Right now, I do kindergarten through third grade general music, but then I also do a middle school choir," Smith said. 

    But it was her lack of math skills almost kept her from teaching. 

    Like all educators, Smith had to pass three mandatory tests, including the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, or FTCE.

    That covers math, writing, reading and English. If you fail any of those four parts you fail the whole test.

    "Luckily, the grammar side came to me. The reading side came to me," Smith said. 

    But math was an issue for Smith, and she failed that section twice.

    "It tests every teacher on all these different subjects regardless of what they're going to be teaching," Dr. John W. White, an associate professor of education at the University of North Florid.

    Dr. White said the Florida Department of Education made the exam tougher in 2015.

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    He said the exam also prevents students from being accepted into college teaching programs.

    "We have a backlog of people who have struggled to take the exam who can't get into the teacher education program," Dr. White said. 

    UNF said 50 to 80 students per year don't make the cut.

    Action News Jax contacted the Florida Department of Education to look at how many teachers have failed the FTCE exam since the changes took effect.

    The department said 42,000 people passed the math section over the last three years and 14,000 failed. 

    That's 25%.

    Another side effect of the test is that teachers are being forced out of their current jobs if they don't pass.

    The St. Johns County School District says it dismissed almost 40 teachers over the past three years because of the exam.

    In Clay County, that number was about 20.

    But in Duval County, the school board said it decided not to terminate any teachers solely because of their failure to pass the exam.

    This month, lawmakers made changes to help failing teachers. 

    Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a law that gives teachers three years to pass the exam instead of only one, allowing schools to keep teachers longer as they work to get certified. 

    Dr. White said he believes this is a tiny step in the right direction but it's not doing enough

    "It doesn't change the test itself and it doesn't offer alternatives for teachers to get into programs of teacher education. It just adds a timeline for those already in the field to pass the test," said Dr. White. 

    He said he doesn't believe high-quality testing should go away, but instead thinks there should be other ways, such as the grades teachers earned in their general knowledge courses, to show that someone is qualified.

    "Just because you struggle with this general knowledge test doesn't mean you aren't capable of becoming a great teacher," Dr. White said. 

    While passing the math test was tough for Smith she said she feels better equipped to teach at her school since passing it.

    "I was able to help one of my students with a math homework problem, though, so, you know, wins," Smith said. 

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