Educators are questioning how an online certification program approved by the Idaho Board of Education can adequately prepare teachers to handle the demands of a classroom.

The State Board of Education, with only State Superintendent Marilyn Howard dissenting, approved the federal Passport to Teaching certification process in November, which bypasses requirements of state education colleges.

The test is sponsored by the nonprofit American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, based in Washington, D.C. The computer-based course, which includes essay requirements, incorporates video and audio interactive scenarios designed to test candidates’ skills and knowledge.

For a $500 fee and one year of study, the board claims its course prepares candidates to meet state teaching guidelines as well as college-trained teachers, who spend an average of five years of study and classroom training with mentors.

“I can’t believe that this is even being entertained,” said Cindy Bechinski, curriculum director for the Moscow, Idaho, School District, who was on the state committee that developed the new assessment and accountability standards for students. “All the preparation that teachers have to undergo is so intensive you could not possibly get the same depth of understanding from sitting in front of a computer.”

Idaho is only the second state in the country to approve the online certification program since it debuted last year (see “Web program gives fast track to certification,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4651). Pennsylvania also accepted the program, but Brian Christopher, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said his state has since backed away from the idea.

“The idea is that we don’t want them to depend simply on certification alone,” Christopher said. “We believe in a strong internship program as well, and to be in a supervised environment. You really need hands-on training before you take control of a classroom.”

There are eight candidates for the program in Idaho, but so far no candidate in Idaho or Pennsylvania has been certified.

Members of the Idaho Board of Education say the move does not threaten traditional certification; it’s just an alternative to allow small, rural school districts to fill vacancies.

But Greg Bailey, curriculum director for Grangeville-based District 241, said rural districts now have the option of hiring consulting specialistspeople who have the knowledge base to teach a course, but lack teacher certification.

Although board members Karen McGee of Pocatello and Paul Agidius of Moscow said the test cannot replace college- and university-certified teachers, they said the board was eager to at least try something to fix the problem in rural areas.

McGee said there are already more than 200 non-certified teachers in the system operating under waivers granted by the board on a per-case basis. Agidius said the system of granting waivers one by one was time-consuming and unreliable, because board members don’t have the expertise in teacher qualifications.

Schools can have a certain number of teachers assigned to teach classes outside their fields of expertise. But educators question the validity of a standardized test designated to give certification.

“No one test should ever be used to judge the effectiveness of knowledge or skill,” says Barb Bussolini, a mentor and principal of McSorley Elementary School in Lewiston, Idaho.

“Teaching is extremely interactive,” she said. “You need to know if someone can apply what they’ve learned by paper and pencil.”

Links:

Idaho Board of Education
http://www.idahoboardofed.org

Passport to Teaching
http://www.abcte.org/passport.html