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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Even though school is out for summer, Missouri’s education department is working to address the severe teacher shortage. 

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said last fall that there were more than 3,000 positions in classrooms across Missouri that were either left vacant or filled by someone not qualified. 

The State Board of Education met for their monthly meeting Tuesday and voted in favor of expanding testing scores in hopes of getting more teachers certified. By tweaking the state’s qualifying score, more than 500 teachers could be added to the workforce. 

“We would not make this recommendation if it would decrease the overall quality of teachers in Missouri classrooms,” DESE assistant commissioner Paul Katnik told the board. “The number of students enrolled in Missouri teacher preparation programs has dropped nearly 30% in the last decade.”

A new plan to certify teachers in a state that is suffering a crisis, causing some schools to pivot to four-day weeks. 

“We’re not lowering the standards. We’re just expanding the options given the standard deviation,” board member Kim Bailey said. 

According to DESE, roughly 550 teachers miss the qualifying score on the certification exam anywhere between one to four questions. Those candidates have already completed their accredited program but didn’t score high enough on the exam.

Back in April, the board approved to expand of the test scores for elementary certification exams by a -2 standard error of measurement (SEM) after a new assessment was implemented in August and enough educators weren’t scoring high enough. 

“We will be studying it to make sure if it’s an assessment issue then we want to get that framework fixed,” Katnik said. “We don’t want to elongate potently good teachers while we figure that out.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board agreed to change the qualifying score to -1 SEM starting immediately. This means someone that missing a handful of questions would be certified. 

“The qualifying score is not moving. We are not changing that standard,” Katnik said. “We’re just broadening the band around it because science says on any given day I could score just below or just above.”

Katnik gave an example to the board saying if the target score is 220 and the SEM for the exam is 15, based on the number of items on the test, that means that candidate could have a true score between 205 and 235. 

Other qualifications for educators remain and include a 3.0 grand point average (GPA) in their coursework along with performance evaluations. 

“I never lost a teacher because of their knowledge and content area. I lost them for a bunch of other reasons,” board president Charlie Shields said. 

DESE said of the 550 teachers who would benefit from this expansion, more than 80% of them are working towards being certified in one of Missouri’s top 15 shortage areas. 

“The potential of thousands of Missouri students to have a well prepared, appropriately certified teacher considerably outweighs the minimal risk that would come from alternating the qualifying score for all initial teacher certification exams,” Katnik said. 

Katnik told the board that it’s estimated this change will impact 56,000 students in all grade levels across the state. 

Another recruitment tool that’s waiting for the governor’s signature, is a raise for minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $38,000. Missouri currently has the lowest teacher pay in the nation and lawmakers approved spending nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to make it happen. 

During this past school year, DESE said there were 115 districts in the state that implemented a four-day school week due to a shortage of teachers. While not all districts have submitted their calendar for this upcoming year to the department yet, DESE is expecting that number to rise to 140.