New law would let New Jersey teacher candidates skip basic skills exam

By: - November 27, 2023 5:31 pm

The state’s largest teachers union has long said the test is a barrier to entry for low-income New Jerseyans who want to be teachers. (Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law Monday that eliminates a requirement for New Jersey teacher candidates to take a basic skills test, a move supporters say will help alleviate a longstanding educator shortage.

Under the new law, a would-be teacher who doesn’t take the Praxis test can receive an alternate teaching certificate and then, after four years of continuous employment as a teacher at a public school, charter school, or approved private school for students with disabilities, receive a standard teaching certificate.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has long advocated for this change, saying the test is a barrier to entry for low-income New Jerseyans, especially if they have already earned a bachelor’s degree. The union applauded Murphy’s signature on the bill.

“At a time of acute educator shortages across the state, qualified candidates who have earned an accredited degree and successfully completed their student teaching should not be barred from our classrooms on the basis of a one-off standardized test that cannot effectively measure the knowledge or skills needed to be a great teacher,” NJEA officials said in a statement.

Previously, teacher candidates were required to take the Praxis exam if they did not score in the top one-third percentile on the SAT, ACT, or GRE.

The law goes into effect immediately and will expire in five years.

The Senate Education Committee also met Monday for a two-hour hearing during which the panel advanced two measures that lawmakers say are aimed at alleviating the teacher shortage.

“We made some progress today,” said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), chairman of the committee. “We’re trying to be as creative as possible.”

One bill would require the state Board of Education to approve an expedited route for people to earn their teacher certification if they already work as paraprofessionals in school districts.

The alternate route program would consider a candidate’s classroom experience, like tutoring or face-to-face instruction, allow for a grade point average waiver if they show they’re otherwise qualified, and require them to student teach in the district where they work.

“We believe this will open a pool of aspiring educators who have incredible potential to be teaching staff members,” said Patrick Duncan, who works for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School district and who was also representing CJPRIDE, a consortium of school districts promoting the recruitment of diverse educators.

Jesse Young of the New Jersey School Board Association called the bill a “meaningful tool.” He noted that paraprofessionals already work with students and are familiar with the needs of their districts, so they’re in a “great position to hit the ground running as high-quality educators.”

The bill advanced unanimously. It passed the Assembly with overwhelming support in May.

The committee Monday also advanced a bill that would create a stipend program for student educators that would award them up to $7,200 for each semester of student teaching in a New Jersey school, for up to two semesters. The measure passed the Assembly by an overwhelming margin in May.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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