Teacher Certification Glossary

There are hundreds of terms relating to teacher licensing and teacher certification, covering aspects such as how a teacher is qualified, where a teacher is qualified, and for what a teacher is qualified. eLearners seeks to take the mystery out of these terms with our glossary below.  

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Accredited – Accredited is a term that refers to colleges and universities, as well as the degree programs they house.  In order to earn accreditation, schools must establish high standards in a number of areas – including quality of instruction and a history of graduates who score well on standardized exams.

Accrediting agencies – Accrediting agencies are the groups of evaluators who decide which schools should be accredited.  Some accrediting agencies are more widely recognized than others. The especially reputable agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

For the purposes of state teacher certification, colleges generally need to be accredited by 1 of the 6 regional accrediting agencies. The 6 major regional accrediting agencies are: 

  • the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA)
  • the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)
  • the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS)
  • the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NWCCU)

Even if a college has earned regional accreditation, the individual degree programs within that college still need to be recognized by the department of education for the state that houses the college.  Quality educator preparation programs may also hold specialized accreditation from one of the national accrediting agencies that are specifically focused on teacher education.  The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, and the newly forming Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation offer endorsements most frequently recognized by the various state departments of education.

Alternative Certification Route – Most states offer several accelerated, nontraditional routes to teacher certification.  These are usually called alternative certification routes or programs.  The programs are geared towards career changers and college graduates who already have expertise in a certain subject, but who haven’t completed education coursework or training.  If you already have a bachelor degree and a fair amount of expertise in the subject you want to teach, an alternative certification route might work for you.  But bear in mind, these routes don’t always replace education coursework.  In most cases, you’ll eventually have to complete graduate-level education classes – if not a complete master degree – before you can earn a professional teacher’s license.

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) – The ABCTE is an organization that works to recruit, prepare, and certify professionals who enter the teaching field after first pursuing another professional career.  Currently, this program is available as a route to teacher certification in Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah.

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Certification Officer – A certification officer is a full-time staff member, at a college or university, who is designated by the head of the education department to provide records, transcripts, and recommendations as requested for the purpose of teacher certification.  At some schools, a college dean or department head would fulfill these duties.

Credit Hour Requirements – “Credit hours” are awarded to college students after they complete a college course.  (Most college courses are worth 3 credits, because students are engaged in the classroom for about 3 hours each week.)  Credit hours are collected on a record (a college transcript), which shows how much time a student spent learning a given subject.

In addition to bachelor degrees and teacher prep programs, many states create mandates on credit hour requirements, which all of their state teachers must complete.  Some states do this to preserve areas of knowledge that are unique to their citizens.  For example, Arkansas wants its teachers to complete specific credit hours in Arkansas history; Alaska wants its teachers to complete coursework on Alaska studies.  In other cases, states highlight specific areas – like reading or teaching strategies for English language learners – because they want to improve on these areas within their school systems.

Additionally, some states use credit hour requirements to describe the type and the amount of knowledge certain types of teachers should have.  For example, they may outline exactly how many credits a middle school social studies teacher should hold in categories like American history, world history, government, or sociology.  Most states, however, are not this specific.

Finally, states reference credit hour requirements when they outline requirements for teaching “endorsements,” which can be added on to a standard teaching license.

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Department of Education (DoE) –  Every state houses its own department of education, with its own set of teacher certification rules and guidelines.  Usually there is a separate unit within the DoE – sometimes called a board, a commission, or a division – that handles teacher certification issues and applications.

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Emergency Permit – In school districts where there are critical shortages, states may offer temporary licenses known as emergency licenses or emergency permits.  Emergency permits can be given to individuals who do not meet the state’s regular licensure requirements, but who possess expertise in a necessary area – most often math, science, or bilingual education.  These permits are frequently used in urban or rural school districts, where teaching jobs are harder to fill.  In order to continue teaching, recipients of emergency permits usually need to complete the missing license requirements within 1-5 years.

Endorsements – Endorsements represent areas of qualification, beyond the standard licensure requirements, which can be added to a teacher’s professional certificate.  They’re added to a teacher’s credentials to indicate an acquired area of specialization.  Some examples of endorsements are: Gifted, Reading Specialist, Cooperative Education, or Structured English Immersion (SEI).  The requirements for obtaining an endorsement vary from state to state.  In some states, endorsements may be known as annotation certificates or extensions.  Once achieved, endorsements allow teachers to work with additional types of student populations, and may be grounds for a pay raise.

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Highly Qualified Teacher – In 2002, the federal government introduced the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  In part, this law declares that all public school teachers who teach “core content areas,” must meet a set of standards known as Highly Qualified Teacher requirements. States are responsible for submitting annual reports that outline how close they are to achieving 100% compliance.  According to NCLB, core content areas include language arts, math, science, social studies, reading, foreign languages, art, music, and the general education that’s taught in grades K-3.  A teacher’s HQT status is completely separate from his state licensure status.  In some cases teachers can become HQT by earning passing scores on their Praxis II exams.

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The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) – The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium is a group of state education authorities and national educational organizations that work to reform  teacher preparation, teacher licensing, and the professional development of educators.

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The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Interstate Agreement – The Interstate Agreement, arranged by the NASDTEC, is actually a collection of more than 50 individual agreements by states and Canadian provinces.  Each individual agreement denotes which other states' educator certificates (and states’ approved educator prep programs) will be accepted by the state authoring the agreement.  States that have agreements with other states do not guarantee unconditional reciprocity – meaning: each “receiving” state has the right to deny an application from a “sending” state, based on insufficient coursework, exam scores, or other criteria.  Also, not all agreements are two-way in nature.  Wyoming may agree to accept Massachusetts certificates, but Massachusetts is not obligated to recognize certificates or teacher prep programs from Wyoming.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) – NBPTS is a voluntary certification that teachers can choose to acquire.  As its name would suggest, it is a nationally recognized certification, which often helps teachers to work in different states.  In some cases, it may help teachers to get hired, promoted, or granted a pay raise.  In order to qualify, applicants must be experienced teachers.  They must submit a detailed portfolio of their classroom methods and designs, plus pass a written examination.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) – NCATE is the premier accrediting body for teacher preparation programs, offering “specialized accreditation” for degree programs within certain colleges.  The organization is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and by the U.S. Department of Education.  While many campus-based, educator preparation programs are NCATE accredited, Western Governors University is the only exclusively online university to receive NCATE accreditation for its online teaching degree programs. 

Note: NCATE is in the process of merging with the TEAC (Teacher Education Accreditation Council).  Together, these organizations will comprise the newly formed, CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation).  Completion of the merger is slated for 2012.

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) – NCLB was passed in 2002. Among other things, the act reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The act also outlines these main tenets: accountability; flexibility and local control; enhanced parental choice; and a focus on what works in the classroom. NCLB requires state governments and educational systems to help low-achieving students in high-poverty schools meet the same academic performance standards that apply to all students.  NCLB also requires that any teacher hired (after the 2002-2003 school year) to teach in a Title I, Part A program must be "highly qualified."

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Post-Bac (Baccalaureate) Program – A post-bac program is one that students attend after having completed a bachelor’s degree.  Post-bac programs are usually intended for career changers who qualified for preliminary teacher licensure, and need to fulfill some education coursework before they can obtain a long-term, professional license.  These programs are usually designed to accommodate a full-time teaching schedule.

Praxis Series – A company called Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers a series of standardized exams known as The Praxis Series.  These tests are designed to measure knowledge and competency in different areas.  ETS’ Praxis Series website provides information on registration and other test details - including sample test questions, testing dates, testing locations, and fees.  Some states require teacher applicants to take Praxis Series tests (Praxis I, Praxis II, or both).  Other states design their own standardized tests, and do not require any Praxis exam scores.

Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST) – This is a test used to measure an applicant’s basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics.  Not all states require this exam for teacher applicants, and those that do sometimes offer waiver options (for example, acceptable scores on the SAT or GRE). Some teacher preparation programs require applicants to pass this test before they can even be admitted.

Praxis II: Subject Tests – These are tests used to measure an applicant’s knowledge of specific K-12 subjects, as well as general and subject-specific teaching skills and knowledge.  Not all states require this exam for teacher applicants, and those that do sometimes offer waiver options. 

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Recency Requirement – Recency requirements vary from state to state.  Some states do not have them.  In general, they are requirements that deal with how recently a teacher licensure candidate was actually practicing in the classroom.  In other words, states want to ensure that teachers’ abilities and methods are still fresh, and that they haven’t gone unused for too many years.  Some states may require that student teaching occurs no more than 5 or 6 years prior to an application.  Similarly, teachers who hold out-of-state licenses may need to transfer their credentials within 5 or 6 years of a full-time, professional teaching job.

Reciprocity – In terms of teacher licensure, reciprocity is a mutual recognition, conferred between states, of standards and certifications.  A state that declares reciprocity with another agrees to accept the other state’s approved teacher preparation programs and/or teacher certifications.  Despite its official definition, reciprocity is not always a 2-way agreement.  The “accepting” state may not be always accepted, in turn.  Further, there are often caveats to states’ reciprocity guidelines.

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State Approved (Teacher Prep Program or College) – Most states’ DoE websites maintain a list of “approved, educator preparation programs,” which are offered by schools inside their own state borders. “Approved” essentially means that the program is recognized by the state department of education, and can lead to teacher certification.  In many states, approved programs include specific credit hour requirements and other standards, which the state has deemed important.

Students who choose to study out-of-state or online first need to establish that their educator preparation program/degree is approved by the state in which it is based.  For example, the University of Phoenix is based in Arizona.  So its online education programs would need to be approved for teacher licensure in the state of Arizona; and indeed, many of them are.  Most states will provisionally accept applications from teacher candidates who were prepared out-of-state/online, so long as their programs meet these criteria.

Substitute Permit – Some states require that substitute teachers hold a special kind of teaching permit, known as a substitute permit or certificate.  In order to obtain the permit, substitutes may need to complete testing requirements and/or show proof of some college experience.  Other states don’t require an official permit, but do require a certain level of education and/or background investigations.  Requirements also vary for day-to-day substitutes versus short-term or long-term sub assignments.  Your local school district and/or your state’s department of education should be able to advise you.

Bear in mind however, substitute teaching usually does not count towards the experience needed on a regular teacher licensure application.  If you’re hoping to become a full-time teacher, your time may be better spent in an approved degree program.

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Temporary Certificate (a.k.a. Initial Certificate) – Usually a non-renewable teaching certificate, valid for 2-5 years, the temporary certificate allows first time teacher applicants to teach in a public school while working towards the requirements they need to earn a professional certificate.

Transcript Review –Some states conduct transcript reviews in order to ensure that out-of-state prepared teacher candidates are completing coursework that is consistent with their in-state teacher curriculum.  When the applicant submits his certification application and official college transcripts, a panel will assess all the coursework listed, looking for “deficiencies,” or areas of teacher preparation that were not addressed.  The panel will report back to the applicant, and explain which courses – if any – need to be completed before state licensure can be granted.

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Verification Letter (a.k.a. Institutional Recommendation or Letter of Eligibility) – This is an official letter, signed by a college certification officer (or dean/department head), which confirms that a graduate is eligible to apply for a teaching license.  The letter usually specifies which type of license and/or endorsement area the graduate can pursue, based on the laws and requirements of the state in which the college is based.

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