California Teaching Credential Requirements


How to Become a Teacher in California

All public-school teachers in California are required to hold a Bachelor's degree and

  • complete an approved Teacher preparation program leading to a Preliminary Credential; or
  • attend an approved internship program; or
  • present evidence of having three or more years of private school teaching experience; or
  • present evidence of 18 months of approved teaching experience with the Peace Corps.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) lists approved teacher training programs in California schools. Prospective candidates who wish to teach in elementary school need to acquire a Multiple Subject Teaching credential. Middle and high school teachers must secure a single subject credential and special education teachers need an Education Specialist Instructional Credential. The Commission's list of approved schools also shows which of these types of programs are available at each institution. There are 257 approved institutions in California including all campuses of the University of California and California State University along with many private institutions.

The alternate paths to secure a teaching credential in California do not require a teaching degree. Internship programs allow the candidate to work while completing a teacher preparation program. Candidates with three or more years of teaching experience in private schools can have the student teaching requirement waived and those with at least 18 months of service in the Peace Corps can qualify for a five-year certificate while completing a formal teacher training program. There is also a Sojourn certificate allowing foreign language teachers to work while completing teacher training.

Education Preparation Programs in California

Prospective teachers who wish to attend school in California can find a long list of approved programs on the Commission website. There are a total of 257 California institutions with acceptable programs all around the state. Each school listed includes a link to that institution’s website with full information concerning seeking admission or completing undergraduate or graduate programs. There is also a briefer listing on the website for each school indicating its accreditation, location, contact information, the demographics of its student body, and statistics on its graduates’ successes on reading instruction competency and teaching performance assessments. Most importantly for a prospective teacher, this display includes a concise list of the teaching programs offered by the institution and its requirements and expected length of attendance for completing each program.

Prospective teachers do not have to attend a California school but can be successfully credentialed after completing any teacher training program accredited by one of the regional accrediting bodies shown below.

Regional Accrediting Bodies
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA) Washington DC, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Island, and Overseas
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) Utah, Idaho, Washington, Alaska, New York, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, and Costa Rica
Higher Learning Commission (HLC) Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Overseas
Sothern Association of Colleges and Schools/Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Latin America
Western Association of Schools and Colleges/Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Pacific Basin and East Asia
Western Association of Schools and Colleges/Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Pacific Basin and East Asia

Many California universities offer combined Masters and teaching credentials as part of their teacher preparation programs. These can be very attractive to prospective teachers who already hold undergraduate degrees in other subjects. The Commission’s list of California schools indicates which ones offer such combined programs. There are also universities in California offering online teaching credential programs for candidates already holding bachelor’s degrees. Such programs might be particularly appealing to candidates seeking credentialing through an alternative program.

California Teaching Credential Requirements

The Preliminary Credential is the first step toward teacher certification in California and is issued for a maximum of five years. The Clear Credential must be obtained before the Preliminary Credential expires and indicates that all requirements to be a certified teacher in California have been met.

To obtain a preliminary credential, all candidates must satisfy the basic skills requirement which can be accomplished by completing coursework in critical thinking, literature, philosophy, reading, and rhetoric or textual analysis. To establish writing proficiency, candidates must complete courses in composition, English, rhetoric, written communication, or writing. Finally, mathematics proficiency is demonstrated by courses in algebra, geometry, mathematics, quantitative reasoning or statistics. Qualifying courses must be passed with at least a grade of B and must earn at least 3 semester or 4 quarter units. Some courses can be replaced by testing with scores from the CBEST, SAT, ACT, CSET, and some AP credits. An equivalency chart showing required test scores and the courses they can replace can be found on the Commission website. All credentials additionally require a course in the provisions and principles of the U.S. Constitution.

For a multiple subject credential, an accredited multiple subject teacher preparation program is required which will include coursework in reading instruction, computer technology and health education, including CPR skills. A single subject credential teacher preparation will require coursework in one of the twenty-six statutory subject areas which can be found on the Commission website. The candidate must acquire a Bachelor's degree with a major in the statutory subject area to be named on the credential.

Required Tests for California Teachers

Candidates for the Multiple Subject Preliminary Credential can demonstrate subject competency by receiving a passing score on an appropriate subject matter examination or by completing an elementary subject-matter program as approved by the Commission. If the candidate chooses the testing option, all sections of the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET) are required. The examination for multiple subject credentials consists of four subtests and a description of each with its passing score can be found on the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing website. These candidates must also demonstrate reading instruction competency either by passing the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA) or by holding a California teaching credential based on completing a teacher preparation program that included student teaching experience.

Requirements for the Single Subject Preliminary Credential are similar. Candidates can demonstrate competency in the subject field named on the credential by passing the appropriate CSET exams. The list of exams, along with passing scores, can be found on the Commission website. There are twenty-two exams according to the subject field to be taught. The exams are composed of two or three subsets. The Commission's list of exams also identifies the areas of concentration for each of the subtests, the type and number of questions asked, and the passing score for each subtest. Alternatively, the candidate can demonstrate competency by completing a Commission approved subject-matter program.


Many candidates for teacher credentials in California have questioned whether they needed to take the CBEST (California Basic Skills Test) or the CSET to qualify. As of July 9, 2021 and the passage of the Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill, AB 130, neither of these tests are required. At this time, prospective teachers can qualify for credentialing either by taking the appropriate CSET as described above or by qualifying through a teacher preparation program and other required coursework. Taking the Praxis exam is not required in California other than for speech-language pathology. They can be used in place of other requirements for applicants who completed teaching training programs outside of California. A table showing exams that may be accepted to meet the basic skills requirement for out-of-state applicants is available on the Commission website.

CSU Early Assessment Program

Many institutions offering teacher training programs require candidates to meet the basic skills requirement as a condition for being allowed to enroll in the program. One way to meet this requirement is through the CSU Early Assessment Program. Passing scores on the English and Mathematics sections of the California State University Early Assessment Program (EAP) satisfy the basic skills requirement.

This EAP can be taken by students in their junior year of high school as part of the California Assessment for Student Performance and Progress. It establishes adequate readiness for college level work in English and mathematics. Test results fall into four levels: Standards Exceeded, Standards Met, Standards Nearly Met and Standards Not Met. Exam scores remain valid with no expiration date.

Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA)

Candidates for a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential who have not completed a teacher preparation program that included student teaching are required to pass the Reading Instruction Assessment (RICA). This test measures the candidate's ability to conduct effective instruction in reading. Those seeking the Education Specialist Instruction Credential are also required to pass the RICA. The exam focuses on five areas: planning and managing reading instruction, word analysis, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

The Commission website lists detailed competencies within each area that will be tested. The test is offered in two forms: as a written examination and as a video performance assessment. A passing score on either assessment satisfies the RICA requirement. A score of 220 is needed on each component to pass. Test results for candidates who achieved those scores will show only that the candidate passed. Test results for unsuccessful candidates will include total score, performance indices for each area and if applicable, case study diagnostics. The exam can be retaken, if necessary.

California Praxis

Only candidates for the Speech Language Pathology Services Credential are required to take the Praxis test in order to get a teaching credential in California. This is the examination used by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for certification. The required test is Praxis II Speech Language Pathology. This exam allows 2 ½ hours to complete 132 multiple-choice questions and is administered six times per year. The minimum passing score is 162 and that score is valid for certification for ten years after completing the exam.

Additional California Teacher Certification Requirements

In addition to the above requirements, all candidates must submit a formal recommendation from the teacher preparation program that they attended to secure the Preliminary Credential, which is valid for five-years. California teachers must obtain a Clear Credential within that five-year period. There are two options for converting the Preliminary Credential to a Clear Credential. The teacher can complete a Teacher Induction Program approved by the Commission. Alternatively, teachers with Single Subject Preliminary Credentials who have been certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards can submit that certification along with an application and a processing fee. Out-of-state residents must also send two fingerprint cards along with an additional fee.

California Teacher Licensing Application Process

  • Create an account with the California Commission on Credentialing.
    First-time applicants will need to use paper Form 41-4 which can be downloaded from the Commission’s website. A separate form is needed for each credential sought. Supplied information must be typed or printed, but preferably completed online before printing. The applicant will select the appropriate type of credential and subject areas and complete questions concerning any disciplinary or criminal issues.
  • Return the form along with an application fee.
    The applicant will also provide required documentation including transcripts and letters of recommendation from universities attended, appropriate test scores, and verification of any pertinent experience.
  • Return the online application required to obtain fingerprint clearance with the required fee.
  • Obtain a recommendation from the applicant's completed teacher training program.
  • Complete the recommendation.
    The applicant accesses their online account and selects the appropriate credential type, answers professional fitness questions reflecting any disciplinary or criminal actions, and submits payment.

Applicants completing the recommendation requirement online can expect a response within ten working days. Other applications are processed within 50 working days from the date the application is received.

California Teaching Credential Renewal

Five-year Preliminary Teaching Credentials are not renewable. Before the expiration of this credential, the applicant must secure a Clear Credential. There are specific additional requirements to upgrade from a Preliminary to a Clear Credential, depending on the path taken to teacher preparation. For applicants who completed a California Multiple or Single Subject teacher preparation program, completing a Commission-approved Induction program is needed to secure the Clear Credential. Students prepared in out-of-state programs must meet the California Basic Skills Requirement, complete a Commission-approved Induction program, and either earn a Master's degree or equivalent or complete 150 clock hours of approved professional activities. Those applicants must also meet requirements for an English Learner's Authorization and satisfy California's Subject Matter Competence requirements.

California Clear Teaching Credentials must be renewed every five years. Renewals of Clear Credentials can be completed online or by mail through the Commission website. No additional coursework or service requirements are needed to renew Clear Credentials.

Alternative California Teacher Certification Routes

Intern programs are administered by California universities partnering with local employing schools and provide an alternate path toward securing Multiple Subject, Single Subject, or Education Specialist Teaching Credentials. These programs last one to two years and allow prospective teachers to work while they are taking the coursework required by an approved teacher preparation program. The intern will need to perform 120 hours of intern service along with completing the training program. Intern credentials are issued for two years with a possibility of a one-year extension if necessary. District intern programs are very similar; however, the district is responsible for conducting a Professional Development Plan in lieu of a university program. Both university and district intern programs provide for an early completion plan if the applicant is able to demonstrate adequate pedagogical skills without completing the entire program.

There are also two paths to earning a California Teaching Credential based on previous experience. Applicants with three to five years of full-time experience teaching in regionally-accredited private schools can have the student teaching portion of teacher preparation programs waived. The second experience-based route to certification requires 18 months in a foreign-country Peace Corps assignment in which at least 50% of the time was spent in classroom teaching of resident children of that country.

Finally, an emergency teaching credential is available allowing applicants to teach at any level k-12 for 30 days

Fast Track Teacher Certification in California

In response to California's severe shortage of teachers, some of the state's universities have developed programs that allow prospective teachers to earn Bachelor's degrees and achieve certification at the same time. The University of San Francisco (USF), for example, offers a four-year program in its Undergraduate Teacher Education Center (UTEC) which leads to both and can potentially save the student a year or more of training. The student takes graduate-level courses in USF's School of Education at the same time that they are completing their undergraduate program leading to a typical major. The school also offers a five-year teacher preparation course leading to both a bachelor's and master's degree with one additional year to achieve certification. Azusa Pacific University offers another fast-track teacher certification offering a Single Subject Teaching Credential for highly qualified applicants. This program allows completion of teaching preparation training in one year.

California Credentials for Out-of-State Teachers

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing does have reciprocity with the forty-five other states and the District of Columbia that are members of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). Out-of-state candidates holding teacher certification in one of these states can apply for California certification by submitting the following:

- An Application for Credential Authorizing Public School Service with the appropriate fee;

- Official transcripts verifying the candidates Bachelor's degree and any higher degrees held by the candidate;

- A front and back copy of the candidate's professional -level out-of-state teaching license at either the elementary or high school level as appropriate; and

- Evidence of fingerprint processing.

Out-of-state candidates may also submit a copy of any examination results that would meet the California Basic Skills requirement and, if applicable, evidence of two or more years of full-time teaching experience. These documents may be helpful in determining whether the candidate is eligible for a Clear Teaching Credential or the Preliminary Teaching Credential.

California Teacher Outlook and Salary

California employs the largest number of both elementary and secondary school teachers of any state in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also ranks first in mean wages for elementary teachers and second in mean wages for high school teachers. The charts below compare the top five state employers for each category.

State Elementary Teachers Employed Annual Mean Wage
California 156,920 $85,110
Texas 131,370 $56,760
New York 92,700 $84,380
Florida 73,840 $57,520
Illinois 57,880 $66,140

State High School Teachers Employed Annual Mean Wage
California 103,830 $86,900
Texas 97,060 $58,040
New York 67,810 $88,890
Pennsylvania 50,450 $69,530
Ohio 50,010 $66,010

Future employment prospects vary considerably depending on the particular location within the state. Nevertheless, California's Employment Development Department (EDD) estimates a 4.9% projected increase in the number of elementary teachers needed between 2018 and 2028. Over that same period, the EDD anticipates increasing the secondary teaching population by more than 5%.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I need both CBEST and CSET?

    As of July 9, 2021, neither test is required for California teacher certification. Candidates can meet the Basic Skills requirement by passing the CBEST or CSET, by achieving a qualifying score on the SAT, ACT or AP exams, or through approved coursework. Subject matter expertise can either be demonstrated by passing the appropriate CSET or through appropriate coursework.

  • What is the CBEST good for?

    A passing score on all parts of the CBEST can be used to meet the basic skills requirement. Alternatively, completion of appropriate coursework or qualifying scores on the ACT, SAT or AP exams can be used.

  • How long does it take to get a teaching credential in California?

    The candidate must both complete a Bachelor's degree and an approved Teacher Preparation Program to secure a Preliminary Teaching Credential which is valid for five years. That credential must be converted to a Clear Credential within five years to be allowed to continue teaching. Six years is the average amount of time to complete all required training although there are fast track programs that require less time.

  • Can I teach in California with an out of state credential?

    California has reciprocity with forty-five states and the District of Columbia. A valid teaching certificate from those jurisdictions can be used to secure California Certification.

  • How long is a teacher preparation program California?

    Most teacher preparation programs in California take approximately two years after completion of a Bachelor's degree. There are fast track and alternative paths to certification that may require less time.