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Central Texas teachers often struggle becoming certified

January 29, 2015

By Brian Collister and Joe Ellis

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- In Texas public schools, your child gets three tries to pass the STAAR test. But we found their teachers get an unlimited number of chances on their own required exams. Like many professions, teachers and principals must pass certain tests to become certified. It's the state's way of ensuring they're qualified for the job. But educators are commonly allowed to work in schools even while they're still trying to become certified. A KXAN investigation found some have failed over and over.

Many parents probably aren't aware their child's teacher or even their principal might have a “probationary” certification because they have not passed the required state exams for that job.

For example, KXAN found a vice principal in the Manor Independent School District who had a probationary certificate for two school years while in that position. He failed his principal exam 10 times before finally passing on the 11th attempt in May 2014.

“We are always looking for the best qualified candidate out there when we hire and sometimes we have to hire someone that's not fully certified,” Manor ISD Superintendent Kevin Brackmeyer explained.

Brackmeyer says the district fully supports its educators who are still working to pass all their state exams and other certification requirements.

So what does Brackmeyer say to parents who don't feel comfortable with an educator holding their child accountable for their test scores when they haven't passed their tests?

“I would say that it's important to trust the process. And trust that the district is making sure that we hire the best qualified candidate. There is a tremendous amount of support,” he replied.

The Manor ISD assistant principal who took 11 attempts to pass the required exam for principals declined to be on camera, but said he believes his perseverance should be an example to students to never quit.

Educators struggling to pass exams for jobs they currently hold or are trying to get is likely more common than parents of public school students might realize. Teacher certification test data obtained from the Texas Education Agency at the beginning of this school year show more than 230 Central Texas educators who havefailed certification exams at least five times.

According to records KXAN obtained from Central Texas school districts, more than 530 educators are working in schools on probationary certificates, including principals and other administrators. Austin ISD, being the largest district in the area, has the most with 244 educators working in schools on probationary certificates. Those who fail exams can work on probation for up to three years, taking the exams as many times as needed during that time.

"I think we need to find teachers that can get over that bar," said State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, who chairs the House Education Committee, which looks for ways to improve teacher quality. "I think the committee will be charged with looking at what is appropriate for probationary certification and how far you continue that probation, in general, but I think there certainly logically should be some limit to that."

Without the probationary certificates, AISD administrators say they would be left without much needed math, science and bilingual education teachers that are hard to find.

“I can guarantee you that our principals are keeping track of these probationary teachers and really watching it,” said Kimiko Krekel, executive director of Educator Quality at AISD. “And if that teacher’s struggling after a certain amount of time they're going to have that discussion with that teacher that this is not the appropriate place. If that teacher’s doing an outstanding job in the classroom and really bringing those kids along, and still aren't passing the test, then that principal’s going to get with that program and say, ‘OK, why are we not helping support them and what is it that we're not doing well to be successful?’”

To help, they must enroll in approved certification programs that include online help and sample tests.

Gloria Cruz teaches bilingual education at Anderson Mill Elementary in Round Rock ISD. She started the school year with a probationary certificate because she had not yet met all of the requirements.

“I don't think that was a problem for the parents,” said Cruz.

Cruz has now passed all of her exams thanks to an alternative certification program.

“I feel like I'm still learning and even though I took the training and I did the face-to-face, the hands-on was the true learning experience for me,” Cruz added.

Sample tests available online show questions for principals ranging from how to improve student performance to responding to a critical editorial in a newspaper about their campus.

Teacher test examples include understanding the elements of writing and helping students assess their own writing.