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May 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 8

The Consequences of edTPA

What does this pre-service teacher performance assessment mean for the profession?

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Depending on where you work, you may have heard whispers about the edTPA in the hallways of your school. You may have seen perplexed student teachers huddled in a corner of the teachers' lounge trying to decode the language and prompts. You may have heard cries of frustration when "focus students" were absent, videos failed to save, or a fire drill disrupted a lesson. If you work directly with a student teacher, you may have spent prep periods wrestling with how your school's mandated curriculum can be used within the confines of the edTPA.
As a clinical supervisor for student teachers, I spend much of my time in schools throughout New York City. When I mention edTPA to most classroom teachers and administrators, I get one of three responses: a blank stare (from those who have never heard of it); a sigh (from those who have seen student teachers battling with it); or a one-liner along the lines of "Thank goodness I didn't have to do that to be certified." For that first group, here is a little background.
The edTPA is a teacher performance assessment. The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) created the assessment—which evolved from the Performance Assessment of California Teachers—as an evaluation of teacher readiness. It is being championed by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and is nationally distributed and scored by Pearson. On their website, SCALE and the AACTE outline several objectives for edTPA, including improving P–12 student outcomes, guiding improvement of teacher preparation programs, and using it as one of multiple measures for teacher licensure.
Race to the Top grants provided resources and incentives to construct and promote these assessments, leading states to adopt edTPA. Starting in New York and Washington, and now also in Wisconsin and Hawaii, the edTPA is required for certification. In other states, candidates must pass the edTPA to graduate from a teacher education program. Individual schools also might use it as one of their "key assessments" for accreditation.

Student Teaching and edTPA

The edTPA differs from paper-and-pencil tests in that it requires student teachers to compile a portfolio of planning, instructional, and assessment material for a "learning segment" of three to five lessons. Teacher candidates are required to submit lesson plans, student work samples, a 20-minute classroom video, and a 40–60 page instructional commentary. In this commentary, teacher candidates explain their instructional choices, analyze student data, and reflect on their teaching.
Sounds reasonable, right? Not upon closer inspection. The requirements and limitations that the edTPA places on these lessons get in the way of an authentic teaching portfolio (Berlak, 2011; Lanham, 2012; Meuwissen & Choppin, 2015; Okhremtchouk, Newell, & Rosa, 2013; Rennert-Ariev, 2008). One former teacher candidate wrote to me saying,
I think the edTPA is a good step toward a more valid assessment of how teachers teach, but it is too long and takes too long to complete …. It actually takes away from our experience. We were so busy planning around it that we sometimes actually had to turn down teaching opportunities!
The edTPA requires teacher candidates to provide specific documentation about their focus students' learning during the learning segment. Lessons should be well connected, and focus students must be present for the entire segment. Student absences, scheduling changes, and safety drills have a detrimental effect on an edTPA portfolio. Real life gets in the way.
For instance, Cristina was placed with a cooperating teacher who went on maternity leave right before Cristina started her learning segment. The students were adjusting to—and testing—the long-term sub, which resulted in Cristina having a disastrous first lesson. Scenarios like this show how the assessment can be more difficult for some candidates depending on their student teaching placement. These situations become even more challenging for teacher candidates taking other courses during the student teaching semester or those juggling part-time employment, as well as for nontraditional students with family responsibilities.
A cooperating teacher's knowledge of edTPA makes a difference, too. In a survey of 58 cooperating teachers and 58 teacher candidates at a private college in New York, Burns and colleagues (2015) found that 74 percent of cooperating teachers agreed or strongly agreed that a cooperating teacher should be an active supporter of a student teacher's edTPA work. However, only 57 percent indicated that they had received enough information about the edTPA to support their student teachers.
The edTPA also affects the student teaching experience overall. Seventy-one percent of the teacher candidates in Burns and colleagues' research felt that the edTPA interfered with their student teaching responsibilities. On balance, many candidates feel overwhelmed by the edTPA's requirements on top of an already stressful student teaching experience. In the spring 2015 semester, 10 of my 14 student teachers were reduced to tears because of the pressure they felt to pass the edTPA while keeping up with their other personal and academic responsibilities. Teacher candidates have reported sleep deprivation, stress, and severe effects on personal relationships and their health. This psychological burden requires emotional support from clinical supervisors and cooperating teachers (Okhremtchouk et al., 2009).

Conflicting Needs

In a 2015 survey I conducted of 59 elementary education teacher candidates in New York City, 41 percent of participants felt their school's structure was not conducive to completing the edTPA requirements. Teacher candidates explained that not only was standardized curriculum a roadblock, but also many classrooms had their own requirements and pressures from administrators, which limited a student teacher's flexibility. In the spring semester, the edTPA is even more challenging to complete. With Common Core assessments linked to teacher evaluations in many states, the hours devoted to test preparation and administration leave little time for classroom teachers to focus on the needs of student teachers.
To minimize the conflict of needs, some teacher educators recommend completing the edTPA after testing is over, but this results in a different problem. What happens if teacher candidates do not pass, yet have successfully completed student teaching? These teachers are on their own. They can retake their edTPA as a volunteer in a classroom, get a job as a teaching assistant, or take a teaching position in a school that does not require teachers to be certified. A third option, offered by some schools of education, is to take a post-degree edTPA "course," where graduates pay additional fees to receive a supervised placement to complete their new portfolio.
Because of these time and financial burdens, many schools are opting to have candidates submit their edTPA in the middle of student teaching so they can resubmit it in the same semester if they do not pass (Hildebrandt & Swanson, 2014). Although this may seem like the most reasonable strategy, it too has consequences. Most teacher candidates have had little or no fieldwork experience prior to student teaching. How can they show their readiness for the classroom if they've had only a few weeks of clinical experience?

Implications for the Teacher Workforce

There are also concerns that edTPA could further contribute to the lack of diversity in teaching. The test's language and writing demands are cumbersome—and even more so for those who are not native English speakers. For example, my teacher candidates spend a lot of time trying to figure out the difference between such terms as language function ("the content and language focus of the learning task"); literacy strategy ("an approach selected deliberately by a reader or writer to comprehend or compose text"); and central focus ("description of the important understandings and core concepts that you want students to develop")—when sometimes all three are the same.
Cost alone can prohibit individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds from entering the profession. In addition to the $300 charge for the assessment, schools of education have begun to add "edTPA fees" to pay for support workshops, edTPA coordinators, and online portfolio management systems. In New York State, teacher candidates must take three additional exams, complete state-required workshops, and be fingerprinted. Assuming they pass each test on their first attempt, the cost of certification is approximately $1,000. For many students who are paying their way through school while working a part-time job, this is a big expense. (Consider, too, that student teaching cuts back on a candidate's available hours for paid work, leaving an even smaller pool of funds to budget for certification expenses.) The expense is even more crippling for those low-income students who would not be able to afford college without federal and state grants.
As Harriet R. Fayne, Dean of the School of Education at Lehman College, City University of New York, explained,
As is the case across CUNY, we are seeing a steep drop in the number of applicants for teacher education programs and a significant decrease in the number of those who complete their courses of study and actually get a teaching certificate within six months of graduation. What do I believe are the factors that have caused this precipitous "melt" in our pool of credentialed teachers? Time and money (and often, time is money). edTPA requirements take up too much space during a one-semester student teaching experience, leaving little room for anything else.

What edTPA Means for Public Education

What we are seeing in New York State is that some teacher candidates would rather apply for certification in a state that does not require the edTPA, or teach in a school that does not require certification. For those who think edTPA is doing its job as a gatekeeper, you are mistaken. The teacher candidates who are not getting certified are not unmotivated or ill-prepared. In fact, these candidates are coming from rigorous teacher education programs, have strong GPAs, have been screened through the "gates" within teacher education programs before they reach student teaching, and have received positive assessments of their teaching ability from cooperating teachers and clinical supervisors (New York Board of Regents, 2015).
For many teacher candidates, it's a matter of affordability. For some, the time demands of the edTPA are not feasible. And for others, it's a matter of principle. One elementary education teacher candidate who decided not to enter public education shared with me,
I recognized that the kind of profit-motivated managerial control through "evaluation" that the edTPA represents would be a continuing feature of any career teaching in state-controlled education.
Rather than acting as a test for certification or a gatekeeper, edTPA has been a deterrent to entering the field. With fewer teacher candidates, a teacher shortage may result. And with empty classrooms to fill, emergency certification programs will flourish, contributing to the problem that edTPA hopes to diminish—having unqualified teachers in the classroom.
If you're wondering whether alternative certification programs, such as Teach for America, require the edTPA, you're on to something. With their temporary licenses, these alternate-route teachers have two years to get certified, which is when their "commitment" ends. This means two things: First, many may never tackle the edTPA because they move on to other professions. Second, if they do complete the assessment, they have the benefit of doing it in their own classroom with a full year of classroom experience or more under their belts. This is an advantage that traditional student teachers surely do not have.

Authentic and Manageable Evaluation

Teacher candidates have expressed concerns that instead of becoming familiar with on-the-job accountability systems, such as Danielson's Framework for Teaching, they are consumed with taking the edTPA. One cooperating teacher, for instance, shared that the edTPA doesn't look at aspects like professionalism and growth over the course of a semester. It's not that the edTPA doesn't ask teacher candidates to document aspects of teaching that would help them on various other evaluation systems, but its structure and language are unique. Student teachers often complain that they never hear the test vocabulary being used by the teachers or administrators at their placement schools.
Additionally, in states where the edTPA is used for certification, the expertise of those who know the student teachers and their context—namely, field supervisors and cooperating teachers—is being overridden by the judgment of a distant and remote scorer. Even if cooperating teachers and field supervisors recommend students, the candidates are not certified without passing edTPA, effectively minimizing the role of the professionals.
The question that often arises is, "If not this, then what?" Throughout the country, practicing teachers are evaluated through observations, family surveys, portfolios, and student test scores. No system is perfect, but these approaches offer an authentic assessment that isn't so time-consuming that it takes away from student learning. This is what teacher candidates and teacher educators are asking for as well.
References

Berlak, A. (2011). Standardized teacher performance assessments: Obama/Duncan's quick fix for what they think it is that ails us. In P. R. Carr & B. J. Porfilio (Eds.). The phenomenon of Obama and the agenda for education (pp. 187–209). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Burns, B. A., Henry, J. J., & Lindauer, J. R. (2015). Working together to foster candidate success on the edTPA. Journal of Inquiry & Action in Education, 6(2), 18–37.

Hildebrandt, S. A., & Swanson, P. (2014). World language teacher candidate performance on edTPA: An exploratory study. Foreign Language Annals, 47(4), 576–591.

Lanham, A. (2012). Resisting the privatization of American education. Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship & Pedagogy, 23(1), 111–119.

Meuwissen, K. W., & Choppin, J. M. (2015). Preservice teachers' adaptations to tensions associated with the edTPA during its early implementation in New York and Washington states. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(0), 103.

New York Board of Regents. (2015). Brooklyn town hall meeting: New York teacher certification meeting with regents on the higher education committee. St. Francis College, December 7, 2015, Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Okhremtchouk, I., Seiki, S., Gilliland, B., Ateh, C., Wallace, M., & Kato, A. (2009). Voices of pre-service teachers: Perspectives on the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT). Issues in Teacher Education, 18(1), 39–62.

Okhremtchouk, I. S., Newell, P. A., & Rosa, R. (2013). Assessing pre-service teachers prior to certification: Perspectives on the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT). Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21(56).

Rennert-Ariev, P. (2008). The hidden curriculum of performance-based teacher education. Teachers College Record, 110(1), 105–138.

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