Licensure Reciprocity: Tennessee

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: Tennessee results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/TN-Licensure-Reciprocity-21

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Teachers with valid out-of-state certificates comparable to Tennessee's professional license are eligible for the state's practitioner license. Although these candidates are eventually required to submit qualifying scores on required content assessments the state regrettably allows a waiver by granting the practitioner license and allowing the submission of these scores prior to renewing or advancing this initial license. 

Transcripts are also required for all out-of-state teachers; however, it is not clear whether the state analyzes transcripts to determine whether a teacher was prepared through a traditional or alternate route or whether additional coursework will be required.

Tennessee 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.

Tennessee requires that all teachers employed at its virtual school be "qualified to teach in this state under existing law."

Citation

Recommendations for Tennessee

To uphold standards, require that teachers coming from other states meet testing requirements. 

Tennessee takes considerable risk by granting a waiver for its licensing tests until the out-of-state teacher applies to renew or advance the initial license. The state should not waive any of its teacher tests unless an applicant can provide evidence of a passing score under its own standards prior to entering the classroom. The negative impact on student learning stemming from a teacher's inadequate subject-matter knowledge is not mitigated by the teacher's having experience or an out-of-state license.

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. Tennessee should consider discontinuing its requirement for the submission of transcripts. Transcript analysis is 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 Tennessee.

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

Rather than rely on transcripts to assess credentials, Tennessee 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). 

Ensure that requirements for out-of-state online teachers are not burdensome. 

Tennessee 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

Tennessee was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that its licensure restructuring policy assigns the same credential to out-of-state teachers as it does to teachers who were prepared in-state, and it ties professional advancement of all teachers to level of effectiveness as determined by the statewide evaluation system. In addition, out-of-state applicants for licensure in Tennessee must submit qualifying scores on required content assessments.

Tennessee also noted that it is reluctant to accept effectiveness data when considering out-of-state applicants due to the absence of instruments and methodologies to uniformly assess the quality of effectiveness data from one state relative to another. As the state moves toward tying licensure advancement and renewal to effectiveness, based on its statewide evaluation system, there will be multiple "checkpoints" where an educator's performance will be considered for licensure advancement and renewal purposes. 

Last word

Although Tennessee requires the submission of passing scores on content tests, the state allows out-of-state teachers to hold off meeting the state's testing standard until he or she renews or advances the practitioner license. The state should strengthen its policy by requiring passing scores prior to entering the classroom. 

The state's point that it is reluctant to use effectiveness data as the basis for license reciprocity given the inconsistent requirements across states is quite valid. Tennessee 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.