Teacher certification exams often compared to the SAT might come to an end for many of New Mexico’s prospective educators.
Officials with the state Public Education Department announced Friday they are planning to overhaul the teacher licensing system, scrapping a requirement for the long and costly tests and offering instead a portfolio-based option for teachers in training to demonstrate competence.
“We think a portfolio-based process is actually much better and is really about what happens in the classroom,” Public Education Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment told lawmakers on the Legislative Education Study Committee during a discussion of the plan.
The proposal, set to take effect July 1, raised some concerns for Sen. Bill Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, who questioned whether a portfolio would be able to show a teacher is competent in math — one area in which New Mexico students have fared poorly.
“How would a portfolio demonstrate they were capable of doing middle school-level math?” Soules asked.
Warniment said an educator’s ability to teach math could be determined through class observations.
Emily Hoxie, a senior policy analyst with the Legislative Education Study Committee, said research shows a “mixed bag” when it comes to whether tests demonstrate teacher competence.
“The research tends to lean toward — tests can determine the effectiveness of a teacher in a classroom as it relates to student achievement scores,” she said.
At the same time, Hoxie said, “What we’re hearing from stakeholders that what we need in New Mexico is an alternative demonstration in competency.”
Currently, the state uses a series of exams through a company called Praxis. People hoping to become teachers at the elementary school level must pass reading, writing and math exams, and other tests related to teaching ability.
One test, a reading exam, will remain required for all teachers, officials said.
Warniment said other exams also will be available for prospective teachers who would rather take the tests than complete a portfolio.
New Mexico is one of 15 states in the U.S. requiring basic skills exams for teachers, although almost every state requires some kind of licensing test, according to the New Mexico Association of Colleges of Education.
The association previously reported 55 percent of test-takers in the state fail the skills exams on their first try.
Testing costs for teachers can vary from $425 to $700.
Soules suggested the state could subsidize test costs for future teachers.
The education department, which largely oversees teacher preparation programs in New Mexico, also is considering overhauling the state’s dossier program for teachers who aim to up from a Level 1 to Level 2 license. The dossier — a collection of documents — shows their teaching methods, student communication skills and professional learning ability.
Teachers moving from Level 2 to Level 3 must attain a master’s degree.
A 2019 review of the teacher licensing system found people assessing dossiers approved essentially all candidates, sparking concerns the system does little to ensure the quality of higher-level teachers, according to the Legislative Education Study Committee.
“That’s a PED problem with their reviewers,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. “This has been a good process in the past, and if it’s not working now, it’s because we’ve abandoned the process ourselves.”
Hoxie said national research shows licensing systems should allow good teachers to move up but also encourage ineffective teachers to seek more training or exit the system.
She added the Public Education Department is exploring a micro-credential process, in which Level 1 teachers could take a certain number of online courses to move up to the second tier.
“This is something that PED is in the initial stages of planning,” Hoxie said.