The demand for bilingual education in Texas continues to grow, but the number of certified bilingual educators is not keeping pace.

Project Online Bilingual Education Prep Course Training (OBEPCT) addresses this growing need. Located in the Center for Research & Development in Dual Language & Literacy Acquisition (CRDLLA) and sponsored by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the project provides free online bilingual education teacher training and test preparation. Dr. Rafael Lara-Alecio, Regents Professor, serves as principal investigator, and Dr. Fuhui Tong, associate professor of bilingual education, is co-principal investigator.

According to Dr. David Jimenez, OBEPCT lead coordinator, the reasons behind the shortage of bilingual teachers are three-fold: growth in the number of English learner students, too few bilingual teachers to meet school district demand, and rigorous certification exams.

One exam that teachers find particularly challenging is the Bilingual Target Language Proficiency Test (BTLPT), a Spanish language exam, Dr. Jimenez noted. “The students need to be at least at an intermediate level in Spanish to be able to master the competencies and the four domains—Reading, Writing, Oral Expression, and Listening—on the exam.”

The project provides three online prep courses to prepare teachers for the bilingual classroom and the two required certification exams. The courses range in length from 4-9 weeks, and they are offered throughout the year.

“The prep courses allow teachers exposure to practice exercises and course materials that can ease their anxiety levels, and provide them the best opportunity to pass these exams on their first attempt,” Dr. Jimenez said. “These course materials offer various forms of practice and access to instructors who are not only proficient in Spanish but also certified through the State Board for Educator Certification.”

In the last academic year, 254 in-service teachers completed the prep online courses, and 116 obtained their bilingual education certification through the project.

Teachers are eligible for the online courses if they work in school districts designated by TEA. These are usually districts with the greatest need for bilingual teachers. Currently the project serves more than 100 districts across the state.