School Counselor Certification in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania school counselors are certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). They are classified as educational specialists.

The school counseling certificate authorizes service with students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The Elementary and Secondary School Counselor Pk-12 is a relatively new certificate; prior to July of 2014, certificates were issued at the K-6 and 7-12 levels.

Initial certification is dependent on meeting education and examination requirements. Criminal background checks are required by law but are carried out at the employment level.

Higher level credentialing is dependent on experience. Professionals progress from Educational Specialist I to Educational Specialist II by serving in Pennsylvania schools and earning satisfactory evaluations.

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Educational Requirements

Pennsylvania school counselors will need education at the master's level. Additionally, they must complete approved school counseling programs.

The Department of Education has provided a list of approved educator programs across certification areas; prospective counselors will find their options listed under ‘elementary and secondary school counselor’ (http://www.education.pa.gov/Teachers%20-%20Administrators/Certification%20Preparation/Pages/default.aspx#tab-1).

School counseling coursework may be taken through approved online programs. However, students must have a face-to-face internship. The minimum requirement is 420 hours. PDE has not set a requirement for minimum pre-practicum or practicum hours but notes that students must display mastery of clinical competencies.

Individuals who attend out-of-state educator programs will submit program information sheets at the time of application. Information must be provided by an official at the preparing institution.

Individuals completing programs after June 30, 2014 must have field experiences in two grade bands: Pk - 8 and 7 - 12. The experiences will not necessarily take place at separate sites. Pre-practicum, practicum, and internship are all creditable. Supervised experience may take place in alternative settings.

Students who completed their programs before the effective date may apply for the Pk-12 credential if they have experience in both the elementary and secondary grade bands.

The Department of Education expects that students in educator programs will have a GPA of at least 3.0. However, experienced out-of-state educators are not held to this requirement.

The Examination Process

A prospective Pennsylvania school counselor must pass both a test of basic academic skills and a test of guidance counseling skills. (This could change, however; PED noted, in a question and answer document about the new certification, that the basic skills requirement for counselors might be removed by legislative action.)

Basic Academic Skills: The state adopted the Pennsylvania Educator Certification Tests (PECT) Pre-service Academic Performance Assessment (PAPA) as the basic skills test for educators effective April 2012 (http://www.pa.nesinc.com/PageView.aspx?f=GEN_WhatTestsDoINeedToTake.html).

The PAPA is computer-delivered. The math and reading tests are multiple choice; the writing test also includes sentence correction and extended response.

Examinations are available by appointment at Pearson VUE assessment centers in Pennsylvania and around the nation. It costs $110 to take the full assessment. Candidates also have the option of taking the assessments singly.

Unofficial mathematics and writing results are available immediately after the test; it may take 20 business days for receipt of the writing score report.

The Praxis Core can be accepted in lieu of the PAPA (http://www.ets.org/praxis/pa/requirements). It also includes separate reading, writing, and mathematics assessments.

School Counseling Skills Assessment: The content examination is the Professional School Counselor Examination (Pk -12). It is offered by Educational Testing Service (ETS) as part of the Praxis series.

The school counselor examination is administered at computerized testing sites during monthly testing windows. Candidates may carry out the application process online. They should be prepared to pay $115.

ETS offers examinations at Prometric testing centers and select colleges around the nation. The following Pennsylvania cities have testing centers: Allentown, Bloomsburg, Conshohocken, East Stroudsburg, Erie, Harrisburg, Hazelton, Immaculata, Indiana, Lancaster, Lock Haven, Millersville, Newtown, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Slippery Rock, South Abington Township, and West Chester.

When a candidate selects a Pennsylvania testing center, scores are reported automatically. A candidate who tests in another jurisdiction will need the Pennsylvania state code (http://www.ets.org/praxis/pa/requirements/).

Candidates must score at least 156 on the assessment. Study resources are available from ETS.

The Application Process

Individuals may apply online, utilizing the Teacher Information Management System (TIMS). The Department of Education has provided a user guide (http://www.education.pa.gov/Teachers%20-%20Administrators/Certifications/Pages/Certification-Fees-and-Forms.aspx#tab-1).

Supplemental forms are available on the Department of Education website (http://www.education.pa.gov/Teachers%20-%20Administrators/Certifications/Pages/Certification-Fees-and-Forms.aspx#tab-1).

In-state applicants pay $125; those prepared outside Pennsylvania pay $185.

An applicant can mail official transcripts with his or her TIMS application coversheet.

Applicants can monitor their status online. The Department of Education no longer mails paper certificates.

Out-of-State School Counselors

Pennsylvania has reciprocity with most states. The American School Counselor Association notes that there a few exceptions (http://www.counseling.org/PublicPolicy/SchoolCounselingRegs2012.pdf).

The Department of Education states that out-of-state educators may use any of several methods to demonstrate that requirements have been met. One is national board certification, granted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (www.nbpts.org). A board certified educator will submit a notarized copy of the national credential; the Department of Education will also require transcripts and copies of out-of-state credentials.

Progressing to Level II Credentialing

School counselors may progress to Level II credentialing after completing three years of successful service (http://www.education.pa.gov/Documents/Teachers-Administrators/Certifications/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions/Level%20II%20Certification.pdf). They will need to be ranked satisfactory on six semi-annual evaluations. The Level I certificate is valid for a maximum of six service years within Pennsylvania.

Additional Information

Rules change periodically. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is the source for current information about school counseling certification (http://www.education.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/PA_Certification/8635). The Division of Certification Services can be reached by telephone at 717-728-3224. There is a new chat feature available 8:00 to 4:00. Applicants may also submit help desk tickets online.

The Pennsylvania School Counselors Association (PSCA) is not involved with the certification process but serves as an additional professional resource (http://www.psca-web.org/aws/PSCA/pt/sp/home_page).

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