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WV to accept general science teaching endorsements for new course

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WV to accept general science teaching endorsements for new course
By Ryan Quinn, Education Reporter, WV Gazette-Mail

West Virginia instructors with general science endorsements, including those currently teaching ninth-grade physical science, will be considered certified to teach the required new ninth-grade science course coming to Mountain State schools next year.

Michele Blatt, the state Department of Education’s chief accountability officer, said a group of department officials met Friday to decide what the certification requirements will be to teach the new Earth and Space Science course, part of the new K-12 science education standards the state approved in April and is implementing next school year.

Department spokeswoman Kristin Anderson said the Gazette-Mail — which called her for information Thursday about concerns that instructors across the state wouldn’t be allowed to teach the class without additional coursework — couldn’t attend the meeting because it was “internal only.”

Educators generally can’t teach classes they’re not certified in. Blatt said that if a county seeks a certified teacher for a position but can’t find one, the school system can, with the state schools superintendent’s approval, place an instructor in the role on a temporary permit. She said the permit allows the teacher to stay in the position as long as he or she keeps taking enough coursework annually to gain endorsement and be considered certified in the subject.

Blatt said teachers need a bachelor’s degree to gain initial certification but can add endorsements to that certification to teach multiple subjects through taking additional courses or completing applicable Praxis tests.

Robin Sizemore, science coordinator for the education department, said West Virginia colleges and universities don’t offer degrees specifically for teaching Earth and Space Science because it wasn’t previously a required course. Blatt said there are only three teachers in the state with that specific endorsement.

However, she said the lack of teachers with the credential wasn’t the main concern behind Friday’s decision. “We don’t want to make things more cumbersome and burdensome on our teachers,” Blatt said. “People’s plates are full enough.”

She said the department trusts that educators with general science endorsements — which traditionally have allowed instructors to teach in grades five through nine — will be able to learn how to teach the standards and, if they feel uncomfortable in any areas, use the optional online and regional training the department said it will provide.

“They’re going to do what is best to ensure they’re teaching the standards to their students,” Blatt said. “We’re kind of putting it in their hands, as opposed to putting any requirements on them.”

Rosemary Jenkins, a staff representative from West Virginia’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said before Friday’s decision that the union was very concerned the new course would require teachers to get another certification in an area where there’s already a teacher shortage.

Libby Strong, president of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, said she hadn’t heard great concern among teachers, and said her organization will work with other groups to provide training for the course.

The association’s annual conference over the weekend offered several information sessions on the new course. One forum, co-led by Sizemore, said attendees would learn about “planned eLearning authorizations” to teach the course — a proposed requirement that’s now abandoned.

Wayne Yonkelowitz, a former Fayetteville High School science teacher who retired in 2013 after more than three decades of teaching, said a specialized Earth and Space Science endorsement should be required to teach the course.

“But, of course, I’m prejudiced,” said Yonkelowitz, who’s one of those three teachers with an Earth and Space Science degree, which he earned at Bloomsburg University, of Pennsylvania.

He compared a general science endorsed instructor teaching Earth and Space Science to a general practitioner doing surgery.

“That specialty makes a big difference in the quality of the education you’re going to give the kids,” he said.

According to the new science standards, the course, abbreviated as ESS, “builds upon science concepts from middle school by revealing the complexity of Earth’s interacting systems, evaluating and using current data to explain Earth’s place in the universe and enabling students to relate Earth Science to many aspect[s] of human society.

“Students focus on five ESS content topics: Space Systems, History of Earth, Earth’s Systems, Weather and Climate, and Human Sustainability. The objectives strongly reflect the many societally relevant aspects of ESS (resources, hazards, environmental impacts) with an emphasis on using engineering and technology concepts to design solutions to challenges facing human society.

”Blatt said the general science endorsement already requires training in multiple science topics, and said some colleges already have begun trying to address gaps between what teachers are currently learning for their degrees and what they need for the new science standards.

“It’s not like I’m teaching addition and then I’m going to go teach trig,” Blatt said, using the abbreviation for trigonometry.

The new science standards are based on the national Next Generation Science Standards blueprint — although West Virginia customized some standards dealing with climate change, garnering the state Board of Education intense local and national criticism from teachers, professors and others who said the alterations sowed unwarranted doubt into the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and human greenhouse gas emissions are the major cause.

Earth and Space Science includes a climate change standard that originally was modified, but the state school board retracted the alteration amid the backlash and, unlike for two other global warming standards, it didn’t make new changes to the standard once the controversy died down.

The standard requires students to “analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.”