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Obstacles in education: a license to teach

How Indiana might be holding good teachers back

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In the mid-1980s, Karen Kay Leonard relocated with her husband and three children from Texas to Indiana. It was his job that brought the family to the Hoosier state, but since Karen Kay was a high school English teacher, one would assume that she would be employable just about anywhere.

However, it’s not that easy to come to Indiana and obtain a license to teach.

Educating children in the state of Indiana requires a license, as do many professions. Most of the professions requiring a license in this state are within the medical profession — doctors, the various levels of nurses, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical and occupational therapists, etc. There are other professions that also require a license to work in this state such as plumbers, cosmetologists, barbers, real estate agents, private investigators, surveyors, accountants, auctioneers, and others. (Thankfully, journalists are not on the list — but with the growing number of online wannabe-bloggers, that may be something for the state legislature to look at in the future.) The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency manages the licensing and fees for each career. Most of them have national organizations that determine the standards for each profession and the requirements for licensure. In some cases, if they obtain a valid license in another state, that license is recognized, or reciprocated, in the state of Indiana. Their education in that field would qualify as long as it was obtained from an accredited program or school. In other cases, that out-of-state license makes the transfer to an Indiana license much easier, especially of that license is valid and in good standing.

The same case however cannot be said of the teaching profession.

“I had to take the national teaching exam again and take a pedagogy class at Ball State [University],” recalled Leonard. “It took about a year.”

For the state of Indiana, her 10-plus years of experience and valid teaching licenses in four other states had little bearing on Leonard’s license application to teach here. Her baccalaureate degree in education from an accredited university (outside of Indiana) included the same pedagogy classes as the required class at Ball State — but she still had to take the class at her own expense.

In the year it took for Leonard to fulfill the requirements of her teaching license she was able to substitute teach. In most school districts, the only requirement to teach is some college experience (a completed degree isn’t necessary, just some college courses of any nature), a clean criminal background check and a pulse. Individual school districts manage the requirements for their substitute teachers and typically relish those with prior teaching experience.

Leonard was not surprised by the additional requirements needed to obtain a teaching license in Indiana. She had come across the same thing — with different requirements — in all of the states she had worked.

“Even though I taught high school English, I was required to take Texas history in order to obtain a teaching license in Texas,” said Leonard.

Indiana licensure for Teaching
Although the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency handles the licensure for most professions in the state, the Indiana Department of Education administers licenses for teachers.

“Teachers coming to Indiana from other states, regardless of their level of education and experience, must take and pass all our required licensure tests in content and pedagogy,” says DOE spokesman Daniel Altman. “These requirements are both statutory and promulgated by the State Board of Education in its licensure rules.”

In order to teach in the state of Indiana, a potential educator must have a education degree from an accredited college or university, pass the licensing tests, and get certified in suicide prevention and CPR. For teachers coming to Indiana, a valid license from another state is taken into consideration, but does not guarantee an Indiana license.

“Most states provide limited reciprocity to out of state applicants if they hold a valid out of state license that is the equivalent of our standard or proficient license. The limited reciprocity allows candidates to hold a temporary license while meeting jurisdiction-specific licensure requirements, like tests,” says Altman. “In Indiana, we issue a one year reciprocal permit to an out of state applicant in the content areas on the out of state license; during the year of validity the candidate must complete our jurisdiction-specific licensure requirements. Once our licensure requirements have been met, the teacher may apply for ‘full’ licensure here.”

When a teacher applies for a license in Indiana, they must submit the required documents to the DOE and wait for an evaluation of their credentials.

“We check for undergrad and graduate degrees to be sure the institution where the applicant took coursework/graduated is at least regionally accredited and whether the candidate completed a state or nationally approved teacher preparation program,” says Altman. “We check whether the teacher’s out of state license is a full license or a temporary/limited license and what content areas and grades it covers. We ask for verification of out of state teaching experience, as that will impact the type of license we will issue once our state-specific licensure requirements are met.”

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In addition to their education and credentials all Indiana teachers must take suicide prevention training, become CPR-certified, and pass the state’s required teaching exams.

Indiana is a member of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), an organization that works in all 50 states and several U.S. territories to assist the entities that facilitate teacher training, licensure and discipline. According to the NASDTEC website, the purpose of the organization is to “exercise leadership in matters related to the preparation and certification of professional school personnel.” However, with this leadership, each state and territory still creates its own standards for licensure.

Pearson Education — a British-owned company that specializes in education textbooks and assessment tests — creates the assessment tests each Indiana educator is required to pass. Pearson Education also owns Connections Education LLC — the parent company for online charter schools Connections Academy and Nexus Academy — and is the new vendor the state is using to create and administer the I-STEP test for student assessment. Pearson is one of several companies that create assessment tests for education, but as one of the largest ones in existence, their tests are used by several other states. The tests are generally the same regardless of the company that creates them — thanks to the standards set forth by the NASDTEC — but the standards for passage are set by each state.

“Indiana currently has licensure tests in content and pedagogy that were custom developed by our current test vendor based on Indiana’s Educator Standards, which were adopted by the Professional Standards Board in 2010,” says Altman. “These tests are unique to Indiana; tests required and taken for licensure in other states cannot be substituted or accepted in lieu of passing Indiana’s tests.”

Altman further explains why Leonard was probably required to take retake the exam 30 years ago.

“Indiana’s State Board may have approved a different version than that used in another state, plus we set our own cut scores for Indiana teachers. It is possible that a teacher who passed the same NTE test in Ohio that we used in Indiana may not have met our cut score.”

Although Indiana in the last few years has altered the way that in-state teachers can enter the profession, not much has changed for the requirements for out-of-state teachers. Teachers who have come to Indiana in the last 5 years give similar stories of retesting and extra pedagogy classes as Leonard did 30 years ago. According to Altman, the subject was broached with the SBOE, but rejected.

“During the promulgation process for our current licensing rules, the State Board was asked to consider expanding the notion of reciprocity to allow applicants with valid licenses and several years of teaching experience from another state, most of whom had to pass licensure tests in that other state, to be issued full licensure in Indiana without having to pass Indiana’s tests,” says Altman. “The board members were not agreeable to that suggestion and were of one voice that all teachers coming to Indiana are expected to pass all of Indiana’s required tests if they want to be licensed here.”

However, Andrea Neal, an Indiana teacher and former member of the State Board of Education, doesn’t remember it that way. The current licensing rules, known as REPA 3, were finalized and approved by the SBOE Sept. 3, 2014. Neal says there is nothing in the minutes of that meeting or any other meetings in 2014 that mention any discussion of reciprocity. Regardless, Neal believes it is a discussion worth having, especially in the wake of a teacher shortage in the state.

“It seems to me we would want to encourage qualified teachers who move here from other states to get into the classroom,” says Neal. “My gut tells me we should streamline the process for those folks and make it as inexpensive as possible; they certainly shouldn't be required to take ‘Indiana’ tests if they are already experienced teachers.”


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