9 Investigates: Teachers failing certification exams

by: Michael Lopardi Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates learned that some Central Florida teachers are struggling to make the grade on state certification exams.

The passing rates on some tests plummeted in recent years all while Florida deals with a statewide teacher shortage.

Paola Sammons spends her days in the classroom, but on Friday nights, the teacher becomes the student.

Quiz: General knowledge test for Florida teachers

Sammons enrolled in a prep class at the University of Central Florida to obtain a teaching certification after she failed the elementary education exam earlier this year.

"That's the only way I can get my full-time teaching job at school as an elementary teacher," she said.

9 Investigates obtained state records that show passing rates on some tests dropped by double digits in 2016 compared with two years earlier.

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The passing rate on the essay portion of the general knowledge test decreased from 93 percent in 2014 to 69 percent in 2016.

The passing rate for the reading section decreased from 85 percent in 2014 to 60 percent in 2016.

Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, said that the tests are compounding the state’s teacher shortage.

"I think it's demoralizing to teachers and it's frustrating to teachers," she said. “You're turning great teachers away from a profession that is being attacked from all fronts."

Interactive Map: Florida teacher salaries 2016 to 2017

Florida teachers may work with a temporary certification for up to three years, but they must pass three types of exams during that time to obtain full certification.

The state in 2011 began making some of the tests more rigorous and raised the threshold needed to pass them.

The Florida Department of Education said during a state board meeting in November 2014 that it expected the passing rates to initially drop, but it said the long-term goal was to improve education.

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"So, just as we as a state have raised standards for our students and expectations for our students, this action raises our standards for our educators as well,” FDOE Deputy Commissioner Juan Copa said.

FDOE records indicate that more than 2,000 teaching positions statewide were vacant in 2015, the most recent year for which records are available.

Teachers who fail the tests may lose their jobs.

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Seminole County Public Schools didn't renew contracts of almost 65 teachers who couldn't pass the exam's general knowledge portion, school district spokesman Michael Lawrence said.

Volusia County Schools fired 55 teachers for the same reason, school district spokeswoman Nancy Wait said. Many of them were offered positions as substitute teachers.

Orange County Public Schools didn't provide Channel 9 the number of teachers who were fired after failing the test in time for this story.

Taking the general knowledge portion of the exam costs $130. Retaking it costs $150. The state said that the fee covers the cost of the administering the exam.

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"Oh yeah, it’s expensive," said Sammons, who works at a private school.

FDOE said that passing rates usually rise over time as people adjust to new tests. It said that passing rates increased in 2016 compared with the previous year.

Records show that 26,000 of the general knowledge tests that were administered in 2016 -- about one third -- were retakes.

Click here to answer sample questions from the exam.

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