Licensure Reciprocity: Pennsylvania

2013 Expanding the Pool of Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should help to make licenses fully portable among states, with appropriate safeguards.

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Licensure Reciprocity: Pennsylvania results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/PA-Licensure-Reciprocity-21

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

Commendably, Pennsylvania provides testing waivers only to teachers who have attained National Board Certification. All other out-of-state teachers, no matter how many years of experience they have, must meet Pennsylvania's passing scores on licensing tests. 

However, other aspects of the state's policy create obstacles for teachers from other states seeking licensure in Pennsylvania. Teachers with comparable out-of-state certificates may be eligible for Pennsylvania's Level I Certificate. Out-of-state teachers are eligible for comparable certification if the candidate has at least two years of successful classroom experience, in addition to holding a bachelor's degree; has demonstrated subject-matter competency in the applicable area; and has satisfied statutory requirements related to his or her criminal background check, medical history and good moral character. 

Further, Pennsylvania routinely reviews the college transcripts of licensed out-of-state teachers, an exercise that often leads the state to require additional coursework before it will offer an equivalent license. States that reach a determination about an applicant's licensure status on the basis of the course titles listed on the applicant's transcript may end up mistakenly equating the amount of required coursework with the teacher's qualification.

Pennsylvania is also a participant in the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement, which outlines which other states' certificates will be accepted by the receiving state. This agreement is not a collection of two-way reciprocal acceptances, nor is it a guarantee that all certificates will be accepted by the receiving state, and is therefore not included in this analysis.

Pennsylvania requires that, at cyber charter schools, 75 percent of the professional staff must hold "appropriate certification." It is not clear, however, whether online teachers outside Pennsylvania are required to meet the state's certification requirements. 

Citation

Recommendations for Pennsylvania

Offer a standard license to certified out-of-state teachers, absent unnecessary requirements. 

Pennsylvania should reconsider its policy of transcript reviews. Transcript reviews are not a particularly meaningful or efficient exercise and are likely to result in additional coursework requirements, even for traditionally prepared teachers; alternate route teachers, on the other hand, may have to virtually begin anew, repeating some, most or all of a teacher preparation program in Pennsylvania.

Require evidence of effective teaching when determining eligibility for full certification. 

Rather than rely on transcripts to assess credentials, Pennsylvania should instead require that evidence of teacher effectiveness be considered for all out-of-state candidates. Such evidence is especially important for candidates who come from states that make student growth at least a significant factor of a teacher evaluation (see Goal 3-B). 

Accord the same license to out-of-state alternate route teachers as would be accorded to traditionally prepared teachers. 

Regardless of whether a teacher was prepared through a traditional or alternate route, all certified out-of-state teachers should receive equal treatment. State policies that discriminate against teachers who were prepared in an alternate route are not supported by evidence. In fact, a substantial body of research has failed to discern differences in effectiveness between alternate and traditional route teachers.

Ensure that requirements for online teachers are as rigorous as those for in-state teachers. 

Pennsylvania should ensure that online teachers based in other states are at least equally as qualified as those who teach in the state. However, Pennsylvania should balance the interests of its students in having qualified online instructors with making certain that these requirements do not create unnecessary obstacles for out-of-state teachers. 

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania asserted that it has taken several steps to streamline the processing of out-of-state applicants for certification over the past year. Transcript review is not required when a candidate has completed a state-approved program, either traditional or alternate route, in a state that is party to the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement. Pennsylvania noted that very few transcript reviews are done. Alternate route candidates receive the same streamlined evaluation as traditional route candidates from another state, as long as the route to certification was approved by the previous state. Candidates are evaluated for the most closely related Pennsylvania certificate if they pass the content test and meet other requirements.  

Pennsylvania also noted that at this time, there are no reliable indicators for teacher effectiveness available for consistent and reliable review for teacher certification. Therefore, completion of a planned program of study, either traditional or alternate route programs, and assessments provide the assurances that the candidates have attained the competencies as identified by the state for certification in the area. 

Finally, Pennsylvania pointed out that online teachers must meet the same requirements as other Pennsylvania teachers if they are considered the teacher of record and grade students' performance in the course. Staffing determinations and highly qualified teacher status are determined based on these requirements.     

Last word

To the state's point that there are no reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness suitable for teacher certification, NCTQ points out that the field is changing rapidly as more and more states begin to implement teacher evaluation systems that prioritize student learning and teacher effectiveness. Pennsylvania could do what Delaware has done and limit the evidence of effectiveness it will accept as the basis for license reciprocity to evaluation results from states with rigorous requirements similar to its own. 

How we graded

Research rationale

Using transcripts to judge teacher competency provides little value.

In an attempt to ensure that teachers have the appropriate professional and subject-matter knowledge base when granting certification, states often review a teacher's college transcript, no matter how many years earlier a bachelor's degree was earned. A state certification specialist reviews the college transcript, looking for course titles that appear to match state requirements. If the right matches are not found, a teacher may be required to complete additional coursework before receiving standard licensure. This practice holds true even for experienced teachers who are trying to transfer from another state, regardless of experience or success level. The application of these often complex state rules results in unnecessary obstacles to hiring talented and experienced teachers. Little evidence indicates that reviewing a person's undergraduate coursework improves the quality of the teaching force or ensures that teachers have adequate knowledge.

New evaluation systems coming on line across the country which prioritize effectiveness and evidence of student learning (see Goal 3-B) offer an opportunity to bypass counterproductive efforts like transcript review and get to the heart of the matter:  is the out of state teacher seeking licensure in a new state an effective teacher? 

Testing requirements should be upheld, not waived.

While many states impose burdensome coursework requirements, they often fail to impose minimum standards on licensure tests. Instead, they offer waivers to veteran teachers transferring from other states, thereby failing to impose minimal standards of professional and subject-matter knowledge. In upholding licensure standards for out-of-state teachers, the state should be flexible in its processes but vigilant in its verification of adequate knowledge. Too many states have policies and practices that reverse these priorities, focusing diligently on comparison of transcripts to state documents while demonstrating little oversight of teachers' knowledge. If a state can verify that a teacher has taught successfully and has the required subject-matter and professional knowledge, its only concern should be ensuring that the teacher is familiar with the state's student learning standards.

States licensing out-of-state teachers should not differentiate between experienced teachers prepared in alternate routes and those prepared in traditional programs.

It is understandable that states are wary of accepting alternate route teachers from other states, since programs vary widely in quality. However, the same wide variety in quality can be found in traditional programs. If a teacher comes from another state with a standard license and can pass the state's licensure tests, whether the preparation was traditional or alternative should be irrelevant.

Licensure Reciprocity: Supporting Research

Many professions have gone further than teaching in encouraging interstate mobility. The requirements for attorneys, for example, are complicated, but often offer certain kinds of flexibility, such as allowing them to answer a small set of additional questions. See the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admissions Requirements 2014, published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the American Bar Association, available at https://www.ncbex.org/assets/media_files/Comp-Guide/CompGuide.pdf.

On the similarity in effectiveness between graduates of traditional and alternative programs, see J. Constantine, D. Player, T. Silva, K. Hallgren, M. Grider, J. Deke, and E. Warner, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, Final Report. February 2009, U.S. Department of Education, NCEE 2009-4043. D. Boyd, P. Grossman, H. Lankford, S. Loeb, and J. Wyckoff, "How Changes in Entry Requirements Alter the Teacher Workforce and Affect Student Achievement." NBER Working Paper No. 11844, December 2005. T. Kane, J. Rockoff, and D. Staiger. "What Does Certification Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness? Evidence from New York City." NBER Working Paper No.12155, April 2006. G. Henry, C. Thompson, K. Bastian, C. Fortner, D. Kershaw, K. Purtell, R. Zulli, A. Mabe, and A. Chapman, "Impacts of Teacher Preparation on Student Test Scores in North Carolina: Teacher Portals". The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carolina Institute for Public Policy, 2010, 34p. Z. Xu, J. Hannaway, and C. Taylor, "Making a Difference?  The Effects of Teach for America in High School." The Urban Institute/Calder, Working Paper 17, April 2007. D. Boyd, P. Grossman, K. Hammerness. H. Lankford, S. Loeb, M. Ronfeldt, and J. Wyckoff, "Recruiting Effective Math Teachers: How Do Math Immersion Teachers Compare?: Evidence from New York City." NBER Working Paper No.16017, May 2010; as well as "How Changes in Entry Requirements Alter the Teacher Workforce and Affect Student Achievement," by D. Boyd, P. Grossman, H. Lankford, S. Loeb, and J. Wyckoff, NBER Working Paper No.11844, December 2005; and "The Effects of Teach For America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation," by P. Decker, D. Mayer, and S. Glazerman, Mathematica Policy Research Inc., 2004.