Saturday, October 31, 2015

Software to Indict Plagiarists and the edTPA

Remember that memo that Deputy Commissioner John D’Agati of New York State’s Education Department wrote back in July about what would happen to candidates of questionable moral character caught cheating on the edTPA? Here’s a piece to refresh your memory:
“As part of the edTPA scoring process, originality detection software is employed to compare all edTPA submissions nationwide against all other edTPA submissions received, including outside written sources and other sources of material. The software reports any substantial degree of matching between submitted edTPA portfolios. In cases where there is substantial matching, a specially trained portfolio reviewer may then elect to seek enforcement action against the candidate(s) involved and/or refer the candidate(s) to the State Education Department for enforcement action.” (7-23-15)
Now there’s another memo released a few days ago, and the originality detection software used at my college, called Safe Assign, picked up a 46% match! See if you can figure out why:

“It is important that candidates be made aware that, as part of the edTPA submission process, originality detection software is employed to compare all edTPA submissions against all new submissions, including outside written sources and other sources of material. In cases where there is substantial matching, a candidate’s edTPA score may be voided, and the candidate may not be eligible for the edTPA Safety Net. In cases when candidates have already received their teaching certificate, the Department may seek revocation of the certificate. Candidates will be given the opportunity to appeal a decision to void their scores, and that process will be explained in any communication they would receive if their score is voided.” (10-28-15)
All that’s really new in the latest memo is an acknowledgement that candidates should not be prevented from collaborating with each other pursuant to SCALE’s guidelines regarding acceptable forms of support, which was revised in April of 2014 after some questioned the extent to which peers were permitted to help each other through the edTPA process (I wrote about that too). In that document, SCALE stated the obvious: “within their coursework and key program assignments and activities, candidates receive feedback from instructors and fellow candidates.” Professor Laura Davies, in a thoughtful essay on the first D’Agati memo and the questioning of originality in the edTPA process from September 23rd  raises important issues about the harmful unintended consequences of generating so much fear regarding collaboration, a prominent feature of the work of teaching in a profession that suffers from teachers’ isolation from each other.
Recently the first significant empirical study of the edTPA rollout in New York and Washington was published, and among the findings of Meuwissen and Choppin is confirmation that candidates, desperate for clarity and help navigating the complex handbook instructions and rubric guides to ensure a passing score on the edTPA, have found clever secretive ways to get and give support to each other, mostly through social networking. Candidates interviewed in the study also mediated support tensions in their placements in schools, which can place considerable constraints on the teaching they do for the edTPA. Just working out the logistics of which students will be videotaped, what curriculum will be used, and when and where to do the taping is a source of stress and despair more often than not in my own experience with student teachers.
Now imagine the candidate that finally submits an edTPA portfolio, believing to have properly cited the use of the school’s curriculum in the lesson plans and commentary, turning up a high percentage of matching in the originality detection software used by scorers at Pearson. Theoretically such a portfolio is flagged and sent to a specialist to determine the degree of culpable intentionality in the presumed crime. Similarly, imagine a candidate being flagged by the software for using common phrases and routine descriptions in the commentaries that are similarly flagged by the software as matching other text. Alan Singer addressed this problem here. The software doesn’t judge, that’s up to a specialist at Pearson. But how exactly does that specialist make a judgment, one that could jeopardize employment, either due to delays in receiving a score, or due to a guilty verdict where none is merited?
What’s more, why would ANY candidate agree to allow the edTPA portfolio to be used by SCALE, Pearson, or the college or university, when there is a risk that at some point some stranger could plagiarize from that portfolio without the knowledge of the author, and that author could be subjected to having his or her license revoked?
While we’re considering what is legally unfair about all of this, have a look at the fine print regarding candidate’s compliance with edTPA rules (italics are mine):
From site:
“edTPA Rules of Assessment Participation
By registering for edTPA, you are agreeing to abide by the current Rules of Assessment Participation for edTPA and all rules, procedures, and policies contained on the current website and/or in the current edTPA Handbook for the content area for which you have registered.
For the purpose of these Rules of Assessment Participation, the following definitions apply:
       "Evaluation Systems." Evaluation Systems, a business of NCS Pearson, Inc. (referred to throughout as Evaluation Systems).
       "Program." The educator preparation program in which an edTPA candidate is enrolled as indicated by the candidate at the time of registration.
       "State Agency." The educator certification agency in any state in which an edTPA candidate is pursuing certification with this assessment.
Rules of Assessment Participation for edTPA
1     PURPOSE OF ASSESSMENT: I understand that this assessment is administered for the purpose of fulfilling a program requirement and/or a state teacher licensure requirement and is only to be taken by individuals to fulfill such requirement(s). I certify that I am taking this assessment for which I have registered, to fulfill a program requirement or for the purpose of teacher licensure.
2     ORIGINALITY OF SUBMISSION: I understand that by submitting my edTPA materials, I am confirming that I am the person who has completed the assessment, that I have primary responsibility for teaching the students/class during the learning segment profiled in this assessment, that the video clip(s) submitted show me teaching the students/class profiled, that the student work included in the documentation is that of my students and completed during the learning segment documented in this assessment, that I am the sole author of the commentaries and other written responses to prompts and other requests for information in this assessment, and that I have cited all materials in the assessment whose sources are from published text, the internet, or other educators.
3     PERMISSIONS AND CONFIDENTIALITY: I understand that I am responsible for obtaining appropriate permissions from the parents/guardians of my students and from adults that appear on the video clip(s) I submit. I agree to produce such permissions if requested after I submit my assessment. I have ensured confidentiality of individuals appearing in the video clip(s) I submit by uploading the video only to the designated Pearson ePortfolio system, an integrated third party edTPA Platform Provider system, or other secure system designated by my program. I understand that I may use my assessment materials according to the parameters of the release forms obtained for children and/or adults who appear in the video. Because parents/guardians and/or adults have not typically granted permission for public use of the videos in which they or their children appear, I will not display videos publicly (i.e., personal websites, YouTube, Facebook) without expressed permission for this purpose from those featured in the video.
4     ASSESSMENT MATERIALS: I acknowledge that I am not permitted to reproduce or share any of the information or materials from edTPA handbooks or support materials (Making Good Choices or other materials with Stanford copyright) for commercial purposes. If I do reproduce information or materials from the edTPA handbooks or related materials for personal use, I will properly attribute the copyright of such materials to Stanford University.
5     USE OF ASSESSMENT: I agree that my edTPA submission, including text, graphics, digital files and video or audio recordings, without the use of my name or other identifying information, may be used by Stanford University and/or Evaluation Systems edTPA program development and implementation, including scorer training associated with the program. If I provided consent as part of my response to registration questions, my submission, without use of my name or other identifying information, may also be used for continued edTPA program activities conducted by Stanford University and/or Evaluation Systems such as future validity and reliability studies of the edTPA. Stanford University and Evaluation Systems will not show candidate materials publicly, make them available in a non-secure way, or use them as exemplars for marketing purposes.
6     SCORE REPORTING AND CANCELLATION: I understand that my results will be reported to me; to the program authorized by me during registration and/or State Agency, if applicable; and to any other institution, entity, or person authorized or required by law to receive this information. edTPA results are anonymously provided to SCALE with candidate responses to registration background questions which address edTPA placement context and demographics of edTPA candidates, including educator preparation program and state affiliation, for the purpose of edTPA assessment analyses and assessment development. edTPA results received by SCALE will not include candidate name or other personally identifying information such as date of birth or partial social security number. I understand that any information provided as part of registration may be used to report scores or to contact me regarding assessment- or program-related issues. Once I submit my assessment, I cannot cancel the scoring or score reporting.
7     CONFORMITY WITH PROCEDURES: I understand that if my submitted artifacts, videos, and/or related documentation do not conform to the current rules, requirements and polices as specified in the edTPA Assessment Handbook, and the edTPA website, my submission or portions thereof may not be scored, my score may be voided and other actions as described in Rule 11 may be taken as deemed appropriate by Evaluation Systems, my program, and/or State Agency. If my complete submission or portions thereof cannot be scored because it does not conform to requirements, no refund of my fee will be issued, and no portion of my fee can be applied to the cost of any future edTPA registration or associated services. If my submission cannot be scored due to a system error occurring after submission, I will have the opportunity to resubmit my portfolio without paying additional fees. I understand that my submitted assessment materials, or a portion thereof, may be reviewed by authorized individuals at the program in which I am enrolled, as indicated at the time of registration, and/or the relevant State Agency responsible for educator certification in order to investigate compliance with the Rules of Assessment Participation, as needed.
8     RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS REGARDING edTPA: I understand and agree that liability for assessment activities, including but not limited to the adequacy or accuracy of assessment materials, of the registration processes, of scoring, of score reports, of information provided to me in connection with edTPA and the adequacy of protection of candidate information, will be limited to score correction or edTPA retake at no additional fee. I understand and agree that liability for data loss or file corruption associated with my edTPA submission will be limited to an additional edTPA submission at no additional fee. I waive any and all rights to all other claims, specifically including but not limited to claims for negligence arising out of any acts or omissions of Stanford University, Evaluation Systems, and/or the state or program which is requiring completion of the edTPA (including the agents, employees, contractors, or professional advisors of Stanford University, Evaluation Systems, or such entity).
9     PROGRAM CHANGES: I understand that the edTPA assessment and associated policies and procedures are subject to change at the sole discretion of Stanford University and Evaluation Systems. State Agencies or individual programs may make changes to their policies and requirements related to the edTPA at their discretion.
10    OBJECTION TO PROCEDURES: If, for any reason, I object to the procedures presented in these Rules of Assessment Participation, I must advise Evaluation Systems, in writing, of the basis of my objection at least six (6) weeks before I plan to register for edTPA for my objection to be taken under consideration. If my objection is not honored, I will not be registered for edTPA.
11     COMPLIANCE: I understand that if I fail to comply with the rules, requirements, and policies specified or referenced on the current edTPA website, including these Rules of Assessment Participation, or if I take any prohibited actions, my results may be voided, no refund will be issued, no portion of the assessment fee can be applied toward the cost of any future assessment fees, my registration may be canceled, I may be prohibited in the future from registering for edTPA. Legal proceedings and actions may be pursued as well as other remedies deemed appropriate by Evaluation Systems, my program or State Agency, as appropriate. In addition, I understand that assessment fraud may be grounds for denial, revocation and/or suspension of a teaching license.
RULES: I understand that should any of these rules or any other requirement or provision contained on the current website be declared or determined by any court to be illegal or invalid, the remaining rules, requirements, and provisions will not be affected and the illegal or invalid rule, requirement, or provision shall not be deemed a part of the current edTPA website. The headings of each of the Rules of Assessment Participation for edTPA are for convenient reference only. They are not a part of the rules themselves; they do not necessarily reflect the entire subject matter of each rule; and they are not intended to be used for the purpose of modifying, interpreting, or construing any of these Rules of Assessment Participation for edTPA. I agree that any legal action arising in connection with my registration for or participation in edTPA shall be brought in the state and federal courts governing St. Paul, Minnesota, and I consent to the personal jurisdiction of such courts.

Voiding of Scores:
If you violate one of the Rules of Assessment Participation or if doubts are raised about the validity or legitimacy of your registration or your scores, Evaluation Systems may notify the educator preparation program and/or State Agency you identified during the registration process, as applicable.
Evaluation Systems reserves the right to void your scores if in their sole opinion, or after consultation with the educator preparation program and/or State Agency you identified during the registration process (as appropriate), there is adequate reason to question your scores' validity or legitimacy, due to misconduct including, but not limited to, a violation of the rules set forth on the current edTPA website, including the Rules of Assessment Participation.
Further action may be taken, including remedies deemed appropriate by Evaluation Systems, your educator preparation program or State Agency, as applicable.
Please note that software may be employed to screen submissions for originality of content. Submissions determined to violate edTPA rules regarding the originality of the submitted material will be subject to actions described above.”

We’re always warned to read the fine print, but that doesn’t really mean we have much power to do anything about it, especially when it is a requirement of employment. Now, imagine that candidate I described above, waiting since last spring to receive an edTPA score, getting nowhere with Pearson, SCALE, or the program, and knowing only that the portfolio is in a limbo of administrative review. Maybe that’s not hypothetical. Maybe that is reality.


  1. This describes the perfect storm.

    The corporations did it for tort reform and screwed the people by taking away a victims right the take a corporation to court when the services or products they sell damage/injur the customer.

    They are doing it with prison reform.

    They are doing it with the reform of the legal system: courts, police, etc.

    And they are doing it with education reform.

    The small print always strips the people of their constitutional rights to justice.
    If you buy a mobile phone, the small print that you agree to strips you of your right to take, for instance, AT&T to court for alleged fraud.

    I recently read that the use of small print in almost every service contract that we sign up for started in the 1970s and as profits have soared into orbit for corporation, the fine print has spread like terminal cancer and it had paralleled the corporate war on labor unions.

  2. Battle in Illinois Over the “McDonaldization” of Teacher Education – Alan Singer’s Latest Huffington Post

  3. This is exactly what I am going through now with Pearson and it got to the point where I re-did the whole portfolio and submitted a brand new one that is now also administrative review.

    1. That is a nightmare! I hope that when this is all behind you, you might consider going public with your experience. I'd be happy to help you do so through my blog. I exchanged messages with someone on Twitter who also redid the edTPA after being in administrative review, even though she cited the Ready Gen lesson/unit clearly in her commentary. There is zero transparency on the software detection and it is clearly a problem causing grave injustice, undue anxiety, and it is blatantly unfair. I am so sorry you are going through this TWICE. Hang in there.

  4. I recently found out that my edTPA is in administrative review.. what does this mean? after spending a year working on the portfolio, and another month and a half waiting for my score, I am sickened by this. when I called the company, they told me to re-read their website and that they have zero additional information. I have completed all other parts of my NYS dual certification and am losing sleep over this edTPA situation.

  5. Erica, I am sorry you are stuck in limbo hell. All I can suggest is that you make a lot of noise and complain about Pearson and the state taking so long. I think what happens is they run the portfolio through a software detection program for plagiarism, and then it is supposed to be reviewed by an administrator (whether at Pearson, the state, or both is unclear) to determine the outcome. I don't know what you do to appeal the decision once they send it to you but I think it is outrageous that you have been held up all these weeks. Maybe see if your college can pursue it with the state.