1. Opinion

Florida should extend teacher certification testing deadlines | Column

The state should also suspend the expiration of certifications for now, writes the FEA president.

Educators must not be allowed to become collateral damage in the war on coronavirus. The potential problem arises from the collision of a pandemic with established procedures. Teachers are mandated by the state to pass certain tests in order to retain or attain certification to teach Florida’s public-school students. The tests are normally administered on a regular basis by the Florida Department of Education. The coronavirus changed that.

Exam testing sites throughout the state have been closed for weeks in order to protect the safety of all concerned. Teachers who needed to take a test by the end of April have watched their opportunity evaporate. Teachers whose certifications will expire this summer report being unable to sit for a required test until at least August. There has been mention of deadline extensions, but the overall outlook appears unclear to many educators.

With all that’s going on, is Florida going to toss out qualified teachers because of a testing deadline missed due to circumstances beyond their control?

This is a state with a severe teacher shortage that long predates the coronavirus pandemic, and no one who cares about Florida’s students — not our political leaders, not parents and certainly not educators — wants our schools to emerge from this crisis in worse shape, with a greater number of kids who lack qualified teachers. More than 300,000 students started school without a full-time, permanent teacher last fall.

The Florida Education Association is urging the state Department of Education to move quickly to grant a one-year extension of teacher certification deadlines and to suspend the expiration of certifications during the same time frame.

The FEA hears increasing concern from teachers statewide that they will lose their certifications and possibly their jobs because they can’t take tests in time. Holding educators to high standards is commendable, but the path toward certification that they meet those standards needs to make sense in our current reality, and that path must lead toward an outcome in the best interest of students.

The Florida DOE has said that decisions are being approached with “compassion and grace,” and those qualities are evident in policy changes such as the cancellation of high-stakes standardized testing for students this spring and the four-month suspension of fees charged for teachers to register for certification tests.

As many parents and administrators have observed, teachers also have shown compassion and grace throughout this ordeal. They have given their all to re-engineer everything they do and make distance learning work for our students as well as it can.

We ask now that the Department of Education do a little more re-engineering for them, by moving quickly to grant a year’s grace on certification deadlines and expirations. Let’s give Florida’s teachers, who have done so much in such a short time, a little room to breathe.

Fedrick Ingram is president of the Florida Education Association, representing more than 145,000 teachers, school employees, higher education faculty, students preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.