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SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers are considering creating a standardized assessment for teachers in Utah similar to a board exam for other licensed professionals.
The discussion comes amid concern over a Utah State Board of Education rule adopted in June that allows schools to hire experts in certain content areas, such as computer science or the trades, even if they do not have formal training as an educator.
The draft version of the bill would require all teachers, starting in the 2018-19 school year, to pass an exam that tests them both in content knowledge and teaching skills.
Diana Suddreth, the director of teaching and learning at the State School Board, said the proposed bill would ensure that teachers — whether traditional or alternative — would have to meet the standards set by the board.
"The main concern is how do they know how to teach? How do they know how to work with kids? This would provide the assurance that they can," Suddreth said.
"What this bill will do is provide a way for us to assure our parents and our students that the teachers that are in their classrooms are actually competent," Suddreth said.
Education officials have said the rules were relaxed in part to address a teacher shortage in Utah.
Under the rule, prospective teachers with a bachelor's degree or higher who pass a background test and subject test are able to get a teaching license. Once in a school, the teacher will be supervised and mentored by a "master teacher."
Under the proposed bill, both traditional and alternative teachers would have to pass the new "pedagogical assessment."
Prospective teachers who do not previously have formal training will have two years to pass the exam — which includes classroom observation with real students.
Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, expressed concern that students would become "experiments."
"I have watched teachers come into classrooms from these programs without pedagogical knowledge just get literally eaten up, chewed up, spit out like a piece of raw meat," Poulson said. "Because they wrongly think that teaching is standing up in front of the group and giving a speech."
"Properly done, this is a good move," Poulson continued. "But I want to make certain that they actually have experience with students in the classroom."
Suddreth noted that the proposed bill does not require schools to keep teachers until they are able to pass the test.
"I don't know a principal who would allow a teacher to come back for a second year if it's not already working," she said. "There's no need to do that."
Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said the practice is similar to the board exams that dentists and lawyers have to pass in order to begin practicing.
"We want everybody to be equally competent," Millner said. "They just may get there in a different way."