State to Require New Teachers to Meet Higher Grade Point Average

Diane D'Amico | Press of Atlantic City

New teacher candidates will be required to graduate from college with a minimum 3.0 grade point average under new regulations that took effect this month.

However, the new GPA requirement will not be effective until Sept. 1, 2016, to accommodate teachers already in college. Teachers graduating prior to Sept. 1, 2016, must have a 2.75 GPA.

Teachers entering the profession through an approved Alternate Route Training Program can also have a 2.75 GPA or higher.

Effective Sept. 1, 2015, prospective teachers will also have to pass a state-approved test of basic skills, score a 1660 or higher on the SAT or 23 or higher on the ACT, or a combined score of 310 on the Graduate Record Exam.

The state Board of Education approved the new GPA in June. The original proposal called for it to take effect this September, but educators argued that it would be unfair to students almost ready to graduate who would not have enough time to raise their GPA.

There is also a flexibility rule that allows students with a minimum 2.75 to still be certified if they achieve a score on the required standardized Praxis test that is at least 10 percent higher than the minimum passing score. Students will a lower Praxis score can also compensate with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

The state Board of Education has grappled with the GPA issue for more than a decade. The new requirements reflect the increased attention being paid to teacher preparation and quality. While educators say GPA alone does not determine what makes a good teacher, the 3.0 has gained support.

Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman first proposed raising the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 3.0 in her State of the State speech in 1999. The state board raised it to 2.75 in 2000 amid concerns about being able to attract enough candidates, and recruit minorities and first-time college students. Board members also debated the value of the GPA in determining a good teacher. State data at time showed only about 10 percent of teacher candidates did not already achieve a 2.75 GPA.

Statewide, the average GPA of traditional teacher candidates between Sept. 1, 2010 and Aug. 31, 2012 was almost 3.6 according to state data.

Many state colleges, including Rowan, Richard Stockton and Kean already require a 3.0 for entry into their teacher education programs, which typically start in the junior year. Neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and Delaware also require a 3.0 for certification.

“Why let a student in with less if they might not get what they need to be certified?” asked Claudine Keenan, dean of Education at Richard Stockton College. She said they do occasionally make an exception based on review of a student’s transcript, but overall the GPA is really not much of an issue there. She said it is mostly likely to hurt students who have a tough time adjusting to college or switch majors.

“I tell freshman on day one that if they are thinking they might ever want to teach, they have to get that 3.0 GPA,” she said.

Students attending community colleges must also be aware of the requirement if they plan to transfer to complete their teaching degree.

In July, the state board discussed accepting the recommended passing scores on the required Praxis exams teachers take as parat of their certification requirements. The new scores meet guidelines proposed by the test developer, Educational Testing Service or ETS. New elementary math and reading/language arts tests are based on the new Common Core State Standards, and the proposed qualifying score of 157 is slightly lower than the 164 required on the old test.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Allison Kobus said in an email that the new score reflects changes in the makeup of the new test, and not a lowering of expectations.

Keenan said colleges are grappling with how to teach prospective teachers using the new Common Core State Standards, which were not in effect when most college students were in K-12 schools, so they have had no exposure to them.

“They don’t know anything about the Common Core, so there is going to be a learning curve for the next few years,” she said. 

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