Saturday, April 19, 2014

The edTPA: Good thing or bad thing?

Back in October, Jon Stewart did a very funny commentary on The Daily Show about how CNN and other news media were stuck on reducing even the most complex nuanced issues to: is it a good thing, or a bad thing? (see parts one and two here). Since then I have been feeling frustrated about the way news media report on debates in education in similarly reductive ways on everything from charter schools to the Common Core Standards. But one in particular deserves a more thoughtful analysis, especially because the ping-pong back and forth between opponents and advocates is turning into a propaganda circus. Here is the question at the heart of the matter:

    How should we determine if a teacher is ready to teach?

Traditionally, institutions of higher education that prepared teachers in professional programs were responsible for this decision. State requirements for certification informed program design, and program changes were driven primarily by state regulations that sought to continually improve teacher quality. As high stakes testing and accountability increased after the passing of No Child Left Behind legislation, measures of “highly qualified” teachers depended on psychometrics more than human judgment. So now, in addition to graduating from a teacher preparation program, those seeking certification to teach must also pass a slew of exams. Most of these are a mix of multiple choice and essay questions, and they are generally seen as inadequate measures of teacher preparedness. I suspect that states keep them going  to prevent programs from becoming diploma mills, and to provide employers with the illusion that passing scores are useful metrics for objectively measuring teacher quality. Institutions haven’t objected to them because they have high enough passing rates, and it alleviates the painful process of counseling out students who don’t have what it takes to be a teacher when they simply can’t pass the tests.

Against the backdrop of the full on assault of the corporate reformers on public schools and the teaching profession captured in meticulous detail by Diane Ravitch in her most recent books, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education  and Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools  and on her blog, we now have a new way to determine if a teacher is ready to teach, a Teacher Performance Assessment known as edTPA. Using the language of the mid-1990s, when the standards movement was seeking to move away from traditional testing in favor of “performance assessments,” the edTPA was developed by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) at Stanford University and was promoted by the leading scholar in the field, Linda Darling-Hammond. So far seven states, including New York, have adopted policies for using edTPA. New York and Washington are the first states to require edTPA passing scores for initial certification starting this spring. However, Washington has been involved in piloting edTPA for a few years. New York did a very small pilot in 2013 and has now made it a requirement for candidates applying for certification after May 1, 2014. In addition, New York has changed to two new exams, the EAS or Educating All Students, and the ALST, or Academic Literacy Skills Test, and is rolling out new versions of the CST exams, or Content Specialty Test in September of this year.

Back to Jon Stewart for just a minute: “The beautiful thing about good/bad is like beige, it goes with everything, in an equally unsatisfying manner.” I can’t help thinking that maybe the edTPA is as beige as beige can be. It all sounds so perfectly reasonable on the two-page fact sheet available here “By the profession for the profession” and “Helping to meet education’s top priority” – who could argue with that? It certainly seems better than an outdated multiple-choice test because it involves a lot of writing, authentic artifacts, and a video recording. 

But the edTPA has caused quite a brewhaha, including a formal statement against edTPA from the National Association for Multicultural Education,  a special themed summer issue of Rethinking Schools, and an all-day conference March 8th at Teachers College in New York where some sparks flew.  Dean Posamentier of the School of Education at my college, Mercy College, wrote an op-ed piece critiquing edTPA that prompted two letters to the editor in response.  Part of the anxiety stems from early indications that the passing rate institutions can expect may be below the state’s requirement of 80%, and as low as 60%. This has led to an outcry about the quick implementation, with Commissioner King claiming in a March 12th press release that the “new exams were originally scheduled for 2013” but everyone was granted an extra year to get ready. When asked about the fast pace of implementation by teacher educator Fran Spielhagen at a session of the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting on April 5th, Linda Darling Hammond said, “New York is a prototype of how not to implement teacher performance assessment” (this prompted a big audience reaction), “and some of us have been very engaged in speaking to the policy community there about how they ought to be rethinking some aspects of that, and I think you will see some things at the next Regents’ meeting that are hopefully a result of those conversations.” She went on to explain, “The New York situation is that this year they have introduced four new tests. Three of them are the multiple choice, bubble in, typical tests that we’ve become familiar with, and I’m told, by those that have looked at the data, that they’re where most of the failure rate is going to come from.” This made me wonder if the conspiracy theory that edTPA is really out to shut down all those “bad” teacher preparation programs by making the passing rates below 80% was true, and that while they distracted us with the increased demands of edTPA, they slipped in the new exams and made them suspiciously hard to take and pass.

But I digress. What I want to do is summarize some very reasonable issues of concern with edTPA because right now we have to move beyond arguing over which petition to sign and how to call for a delay of the launch. Frankly, the train has left the station. Just as NCLB died a quiet death of waivers and was overtaken by the power of Race to the Top and its competitive carrot dangling, I’m worried that edTPA may not proceed on a national scale but get replaced with something worse (and ETS is already working on that). 

The registration fee for taking edTPA through Pearson is $300. Failure to pass the first time may result in retaking one task for an additional $100 fee, or having to resubmit the whole thing and pay another $300 fee. Only a few vouchers were distributed to institutions so not everyone who is receiving financial aid qualified for a voucher. Candidates who receive a voucher can only get one so they still have to pay the fees for other exams.
In addition, initial certification candidates must take 3 exams and only one, the CST, is being grandfathered in New York. The total cost for those exams is $352. The exams that most candidates have previously taken, the LAST and ATS-W, cost $238. That brings the minimum expense to $990, assuming the candidates pass all exams the first time.
I understand we want teachers to be considered professionals, just like lawyers and doctors, but they do not make those starting salaries and this is a lot of money to get certified. I don’t think the bar exam or medical board exam cost this much.

The edTPA requires teaching 3-5 lessons. Candidates typically have two student teaching placements in one semester. Because the exam takes Pearson three weeks to score, and candidates must secure consent forms from parents before videotaping, there is a very short turn around time for completing the process. It is a logistical nightmare for candidates who are seeking dual certification, as many are doing, since it improves their chances of securing employment after graduation. The elementary edTPA requires additional teaching in math and many feel this places an undue burden on those candidates.
Institutions of higher education have an additional burden and liability for remediating candidates who do not pass the edTPA but are no longer in their student teaching placements. There has been insufficient time to make policies, courses, and arrangements with partner schools for those candidates who may require remediation.
Teacher preparation programs have not had enough time to implement supports and practice experiences into coursework that will prepare candidates for success on the edTPA. This has meant that right now, teacher educators are taking time away from the courses candidates take while student teaching, and replacing important content with edTPA logistics and preparation. It also means less opportunity to reflect on mistakes and to discuss why lesson plans don’t always go as expected, which is so important during student teaching. Instead, the focus is all on edTPA and meeting requirements. Unintended consequences deserve at least as much attention as a policy’s desired outcomes.

SCALE at Stanford, and Sharon Robinson, President of AACTE, have both expressed concern about the fast implementation of edTPA in New York State. Most states are giving the edTPA more time for implementation as a certification requirement. For example, Illinois will wait until Fall 2015 and will begin with a lower cut score of 35, compared to New York’s cut score of 41.


It is obvious the public has legitimate concerns about protecting students’ private records and data. This issue emerged recently regarding inBloom and the state’s plans to openly share that student data in the cloud, and there are similar issues raised with edTPA.
Candidates must secure parent consent forms in order to videotape and use student work in their edTPA submission. Some schools have flatly refused to allow videotaping, and some parents won’t sign a consent form. Candidates are supposed to exclude students if they don’t have consent, but that is not an optimal solution.
Notification from the state to districts regarding videotaping requirements did not get sufficient distribution and attention, leaving the problem in the hands of institutions. We are already struggling to find high quality placements for student teachers in the current accountability climate, where teachers are less likely to welcome a beginner in the classroom if it might mean lower test scores.
Videotaping is often being done on new technologies such as tablets and phones that are designed to send and store data in ways that may not be secure and private, and that may unintentionally include location information.
Pearson has the right to keep all edTPA data for two years, and to perform validity and reliability tests (that SCALE has also said they will be running, see FAQ #2 here) that constitute research and that should be subject to federal regulations regarding the protection of vulnerable populations.

If the intent of the edTPA is to provide a better measure of readiness for teaching, it is inequitable to require it of traditional candidates and not of those entering teaching through alternative transition B or C licenses and Teach for America.
As currently designed, the edTPA does not adapt well to contexts of special education in early childhood. This is an area of intense focus with the push for universal pre-K in New York and it is where employment opportunities are expanding.
Candidates who do not do well on high stakes exams that are timed, and who must do their writing on a computer without the benefit of drafting ideas first on paper, are at a disadvantage in the exams, and they may also have difficulty using and decoding technical jargon language in their edTPA commentaries. They may have other considerable strengths they bring to teaching that are not reflected in these exams.
You have to wonder who is behind creating barriers to diversifying the teaching force and outsourcing the work of teacher educators to a problematic corporation like Pearson.

Many feel that while there may be good intentions behind the design and development of edTPA, especially in terms of offering an alternative to traditional exams, the scope and burdens are better suited for the early induction years of teaching, when candidates will be in their own classrooms.
Student teachers are essentially guests for a limited amount of time, and for many of them, student teaching is the first real opportunity they have had to work with groups of students over time and to try out the ideas gleaned from coursework. Many contextual factors can already interfere with this fragile period of intense learning, and most educators who work with student teachers know how much stress is involved. Adding something as complex as the edTPA on top of what they are already expected to do is likely to wreak havoc on their confidence. Student teaching can sometimes be painful, but it should also have its moments of joy and discovery.
Outsourcing the scoring of the edTPA to Pearson, known for inadequate and online training of scorers who are underpaid, means a loss of local control where knowledge of context means everything. How can a scorer living in rural Iowa really understand the context of a school in the South Bronx, or vice-versa?

Maybe the edTPA isn’t so beige after all.


  1. At the January, February and March Regents meetings the edTPA was discussed in detail, see power points,

    Schools of Education in New State are graduating many more students than there are jobs - only 26% of elementary school certified teachers obtained jobs within two years of graduation and the percentage will decline in the upcoming years. State Ed has begun to track graduates by college - percentages that get jobs by college, grades on certification exams by college as well as tracking teacher APPR grades by college.

    There is no question that within a few years schools of education will have "grades, " the "grades" will be public and colleges with low grades will be subject to sanctions from the State Ed.

    Schools of Education are profitable for colleges, and, have been free of scrutiny once students graduated the colleges and bore no responsibility for the success of the new teacher.

    Should colleges bear responsibility for the performance of teachers who the college approved for licensing? and, if so, is this the best method of achieving that goal?

    Peter Goodman
    Ed in the Apple
    Blogging on the Intersection of Education and Politics

    1. See my previous blog about this issue:

      I believe the general argument that education should be restricted because of a tightening job market is a dangerous one.

    2. Thanks, Alexandra, for the clarity, depth, and range of your analysis. And yes, you are correct about that point that the argument being made by Peter Goodman is a dangerous one. I am not alone in seeing the "tightening job market" as product of the greed of the 10% of the One Percent. Not challenged, that greed will bring down the environment and the public sphere along with the public schools. Why is nobody who recognizes some good intentions in the reforms addressing the simultaneous budget cuts that are destroying the schools as we speak? How can the reformers abdicate responsibility for the context in which their reforms proliferate, especially when Pearson is rapidly accreting public wealth just like the other corporate players on Wall Street? Barbara Regenspan, teacher ed at Colgate University

    3. Well said, Barbara. Besides if the number of teachers expected to retire in the next decade meets estimates, we will need plenty of new teachers. The big and ignored problem, brought on in large part by budget cuts and increasingly untenable working conditions for educators, is the lack of retention beyond five years. See for example the comments to this piece from Gallup about a year ago:

  2. In addition, after going through all that, teachers can lost their jobs becasue of the results of annual standardized tests linked to the Common Core that their students take.

    Every year, teachers will end up holding their breaths fearing that the test results of kids who refused to read, study and work will get them fired. And the kids will know this. Teachers will be judged and might lose their jobs for students who refuse to cooperate or who just had a bad day the day of the test.

    Who will want to go through several years of college and all those tests to earn a teaching credential that comes with an annual risk of lose it all because of a standardized test linked to the Common Core laws that says every student must be college ready by age 17/18----something that no country on the planet has ever achieved in all of history.

    NCLB, Race to the Top and Common Core all ask for the impossible. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool because they won't be able to find one country that has achieved what those three draconian laws demand of America's public school teachers----but not from the underpaid and overworked teachers in the private sector Charter schools.

  3. Thank you for this excellent overview of the many angles through which we can look at this assessment. As a teacher educator, I am appalled at the idea of sending a 20 minute video sample to a nameless scorer simply because a testing company is supposed to know more about assessing good teachers than the supervisor, cooperating teachers, and faculty. I feel like whenever they (Pearson, ETS...) can sell us another test, they do. Time for teacher ed faculty to take an active role against this imposition, this attempt to profit off of an educational experience the students are already paying tons for!

  4. Unfortunately, back to back with the Darling-Hammond AERA session was our panel "Context matters: Unpacking national teacher assessments and the edTPA in four states" - a panel of four papers that discussant Marilyn Cochran-Smith described as "early returns" on a "national experiment" -- we hope our initial papers from MA, WA, CA and NY become part of an independent body of analyses on how edTPA implementation is playing out for candidates and programs. We are interested in other papers emerging from the pilots - especially those conducted by researchers outside of the SCALE community.

    1. I am happy to hear about this work and would love to have the citations for your articles since I missed that conference. Thanks!

    2. Pat, there is one outcome of the Massachusetts "study". I wonder if it's addressed in the paper?

      Here is Mike Winerips excellent NY Times coverage:

    3. The earliest published critique of what was to become the edTPA was published in the Summer 2010 edition of Rethinking schools. It was called "Coming soon to your favorite credential program: National exit exams" and it took on PACT, Performance Assessment of California Teachers. The power behind PACT was Linda Darling Hammond. There was plenty to critique even before Pearson got its hand in the till.

  5. Thanks Pat, those sound like important papers on badly needed research. Meanwhile, over at Co-Opt-Ed they said their link to this blog post got 1,000 hits and now they offer some action you can take…I'm working on another post, coming soon. See you in Albany on the 30th for the hearing!

  6. The high stakes nature of this new teacher certification exam has completely demoralized the profession of teaching. To have to prepare the edTPA with no guidance or prior examples to look at is unfair to all prospective teachers. To tell college students that have worked hard to complete a teacher certification exam that they have a 40% chance of failing this exam which will prevent them from gaining a teachers license is absurd. The little time that we have had to understand this exam and the fact that our college professors cannot advise us due to the fear of tampering with an examination is unfair. To have to pay an additional $300 on top of $500 for our other four NYS teacher examinations is truly unethical. The stress that this has placed on our supporting teachers has made the student teaching experience rather complex and unmotivational when it should be exciting and eye opening for all teacher candidates. This exam has made the teacher certification process a true agony and a major reason that many prospective teachers will not be getting certified in New York state and will be moving to other states to teach. That is a real shame. We must delay the implementation of edTPA until their is a clear understanding across the state about this test so everyone can perform at their highest level in a fair way. Then I will happily submit it--regardless of price!

  7. I am working on a doctoral research project inspired by Diane Ravitch's book, Death and Life of the Great American School System (2011). If the public school system–as many of us knew it, at least–is dead or near death, it would stand to reason that public school teachers who remember the system as it was prior to No Child Left Behind (2002) have experienced loss and grief. If you remember what it was like to teach prior to No Child Left Behind, if you feel as if teaching completely changed when No Child Left Behind was implemented, or if you ever felt saddened by some of the changes that resulted from educational reform, then you may be interested in taking my survey.

    Professional Loss and Grief in Teachers (a survey)

  8. Outstanding work! Bravo!

  9. In case people have forgotten, there is a history of courageous and principled opposition to the outsourcing of teacher preparation. Barbara Madeloni raised the same student privacy concerns in her 2012 protest against Pearson's corporate reach. Here is Mike Winerips excellent NY Times coverage:

    They both lost their jobs over this, but continue to defend public education from corporate attacks. Barbara Madeloni is one of two candidates for president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association in the May 10 election.

    1. Barbara Madeloni has been a leader for those of us who share her concerns. I guess it's really not a conspiracy theory anymore now that Obama and Duncan have made their shut-down-the-bad-programs agenda explicit:

  10. Great post. I don't go to AERA but I wish I could have been present for this discussion. I have complicated feeling about the edTPA. I tend to favor the objections made by NAME. I am a teacher educator who qualified as a scorer; it's a demanding screening process. You have to have had experience supervising teachers. I also received education about edTPA on my campus. From the standpoint of a scorer, there is no room for using professional discretion. You must prove that you can score in the "right" way. There is no room for commenting on things outside of the rubrics, either. I have just begun to wonder what this might do to the content and structure of our TEP. Thanks!

  11. I am no longer in teacher education but I looked at the edTPA validity and reliability information on line. I was underwhelmed. I work in the visual arts. The edTPA guidance for art teachers is based on 1997 visual arts standards (Goals 2000) . They are out of date. The tortuous demand for attention to "academic language" has boggled the minds of teacher educators who have never heard of the Bloom taxonomies// perceive, describe, analyze, interpret, etc. In the visual arts, it is clear that the quest is for video evidence of direct instruction, sage on the sage. Video "evidence" becomes persuasive via the aesthetics of camera angle, lighting, movement, focus, clarity of sound, the selection and editing of snippets. Good looking videos of trivial content may get you past the cut score. The one example offered of an "appropriate" visual arts lesson for grade three required nearly simultaneous attention to eight concepts--key words that, if not used by a teacher, provides cause for the rater, paid $70 per assessment, to downgrade the teacher. The sample lesson is straight from a 1980s art textbook. Although some subjects have separate protocols for three grade spans or two, the visual art edTPA is one size fits all--K-12. I could not find an explanation for this difference. I am skeptical about any claims to validity. Reliability is no virtue without validity, and it needs to be super-strong in the visual arts where content is not merely academic, formal assessments are rare, and usually less important to many teachers than retaining interest, and nurturing an affection for all matters artful, even if skills in creating are not up to "academic" standards--most of these a legacy from 18th and 19th century academies in Europe.

    1. You say you're not in teacher education anymore, what are you doing now and do you enjoy it? I failed the edTPA by one point and feel extremely discouraged. The university demands I pay $800 for a summer remedial course not to mention $200 to retake two sections. I am not a fan of the test given I came back to school after being out for 2 yrs just to have to face this assessment portfolio. I worked night and day on it and saw the progress of my students yet they still failed me. I'm a good teacher and my energy factor is high when in the classroom. But if they do this to other motivated and excited professionals who show progress in their own classroom then I believe the system is a complete failure. The amount of pay is not directly correlated with the price of testing and completion of the program. Very upset over this but I will still find my way to teach in a school somehow.

    2. Sammy, if you failed by one point you certainly do not need to pay for a remedial course and retake the whole edTPA. You can pay $100 and retake any of the tasks as long as you submit new material (i.e. for task 3 a different assessment from your learning segment or for task 2 different clips from your videos). There are specific guidelines on retakes so you do not need a course. You have come 99% of the way to your dream job, don't give up now. (By the way Laura Chapman is a frequent commenter on Diane Ravitch's blog and she is brilliant.)