Connecticut is the latest state taking a closer look at whether a widely used performance assessment for beginning teachers is standing in the way of getting more educators into the classroom at a time when many districts are experiencing shortages.
Providing funds to help candidates afford the $300 fee for the edTPA is one of several recommendations a legislative working group recommended last month when it issued its final report. The Connecticut State Department of Education should also “monitor the literature regarding the reliability of edTPA,” and teacher preparation programs should educate faculty, teaching candidates and schools on how the exam is scored.
The state began requiring the test for licensure this school year.
Influenced by the format of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, edTPA is a multi-part, subject-specific portfolio assessment that includes lesson plans, student work and videos of student teachers delivering their lessons. It was developed by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education as a way to set a higher bar for entering the profession than whether someone graduated from a teacher prep program.
More than half of the states have a policy that requires or includes edTPA to get a license, but reviews of the assessment since it was implemented have been mixed.
“A portion of Connecticut’s teacher candidates continue to not fully understand what edTPA is, why it is relevant to their teaching practice and how to complete it in a timely, less stressful and efficient manner,” according to the working group’s final report, which also notes with edTPA, Connecticut is “now positioned as the most expensive state in the region to become a licensed professional educator.”
The state legislature is expected to hold a public hearing regarding the test March 4. And Aram Ayalon, an education professor at Central Connecticut State University and a member of the working group, said lawmakers “might consider either dropping, suspending, making changes, or [keeping] it the way it is.”
Ayalon is among the test’s critics.
“At a time when enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the country and in Connecticut has declined by more than one third over the past decade, and at a time when the decline of enrollment among students of color is at all-time high, this high-stakes testing presents yet another barrier to prospective teachers,” he wrote in an op-ed.
In a rebuttal to Ayalon’s commentary in Connecticut, a contributor describing themselves as “an educator who has the pleasure of working with this program” called the edTPA process “transparent and reflective.”
“If, like doctors, we are asking to be seen as professionals who play a vital role in society then what is wrong with having an exam that allows us to enter the profession as one?” the writer, Kelly Wooward, asks.
Concerns over videotaping
The cost of the exam is just one concern being raised. In 2017, the New York Board of Regents lowered the passing score amid concerns it was hindering efforts to increase teacher diversity.
And last year, legislation in Illinois aimed to eliminate the test. But some teacher preparation programs want to maintain the requirement, and many programs nationwide tout their edTPA passing rates. Other lawmakers in Illinois introduced legislation that would have eliminated the requirement that teaching candidates videotape themselves giving a lesson as part of edTPA. The video clips are submitted to Pearson, which conducts the scoring of the exam.
Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Springfield), one of the sponsors of the bill, argues videotaping compromises student privacy.
“Images of children can easily be viewed by unauthorized people,” he wrote in a document outlining his concerns. “Recording devices can be lost or stolen. Video is often uploaded to the internet and cloud-based platforms such as YouTube.”
The bill passed the House last year and is now in the state's Senate Education Committee.
Researchers call for moratorium
In addition to concerns over costs, the video requirement and the impact on recruiting more teachers of color, some researchers also say edTPA is not reliable enough to be used for high-stakes decisions about who should be licensed to teach.
In a paper released in December, a team of researchers led by Drew H. Gitomer at Rutgers University, reviewed SCALE’s administrative reports and concluded there’s not enough evidence to determine whether edTPA scores are reliable. Gitomer also has worked for Educational Testing Services (ETS), a Pearson competitor.
“Scores of a single instance of teaching are highly imperfect indicators of teaching performance, broadly conceived,” the researchers wrote, recommending “a moratorium on using edTPA scores for consequential decisions at the individual level, pending provision of appropriate evidence of the reliability, precision, and validity of the scores produced by the assessments and, given the stakes involved, an independent technical review of this evidence by an expert panel.”
Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which rates teacher prep programs, agrees with the concerns raised in the paper.
“Performance assessments are a step forward for the field, but they must stand up to technical rigor,” she said. “We would urge states to proceed cautiously until the questions that have been raised are fully addressed.”
But SCALE and Pearson argue the assessment is appropriate for licensing decisions “because it has been validated through multiple means, field tested, and implemented with a high degree of quality control and accuracy.” They also argue the practice of “double-scoring” 30% of the portfolios is in line with industry practices.
Do benefits justify costs?
While it doesn’t name edTPA specifically, a report released this month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine says changes in requirements to earn a teaching license represent a shift away from “program inputs” and toward having teachers demonstrate they can teach.
But some in the field question whether edTPA takes up too much of candidates’ time.
In her 2018 dissertation research, which focused on a math-specific task for edTPA, Georgia State University research assistant Tiffany Jacobs wrote there’s a “disconnect” between candidates’ student teaching experience and meeting the requirements of the edTPA. One issue is, in most cases, neither faculty members in teacher preparation programs nor teachers who are supervising them at school sites have had experience with the assessment.
“In this study, teacher candidates found themselves prioritizing the navigation of edTPA requirements over learning how to be a teacher during their student teaching placement and feeling as if they had been divested of benefiting from their teacher preparation experience,” she wrote.
Jacobs added the candidates often didn’t understand the rubrics used to score their performance, and that in the courses she teaches, she now spends a class session on helping them understand the criteria.
"Teacher candidates found themselves prioritizing the navigation of edTPA requirements over learning how to be a teacher."
Research assistant and doctoral candidate, Georgia State University
Another 2018 study from faculty members at National Louis University in Illinois notes teacher candidates are completing the edTPA requirements in “significantly different contexts,” with some receiving support from the teachers supervising them and some not.
“Candidates spend many hours in preparing, revising, and submitting their materials, and while there are substantial benefits, it’s important to ask if these benefits justify the costs,” the report authors wrote. “Preparation for edTPA requires resources which could be used in other avenues of initial teaching, preparation and skill development.”
A recent Washington Monthly article featured an associate special education teacher who said his training in graduate school has been focused on how to write edTPA lesson plans — not a “real-world” lesson plan. And some critics view edTPA as a way to boost Pearson’s “corporate profits” and say additional alternatives are being developed.
In California, edTPA is one of three tests candidates can take to earn a teaching credential. Another is CalTPA, which has a similar format; it was developed by Pearson and includes the videotaping component.
Donna Glassman-Sommer, executive director of the California Center on Teaching Careers, which focuses on addressing shortages of teachers in the state, participated in a redesign of CalTPA. An earlier version, she said, was more paper-and-pencil heavy.
Now, she said, “It’s much more based on good practices of teaching. It’s a very good measure of how one is doing in the classroom.”
Glassman-Sommer said it’s important for any licensing test to be based on the state’s performance expectations, and added she hears more complaints in California about other required tests, including one focusing on reading instruction that the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing is reviewing.
The National Academies report also addressed the edTPA cost issue, saying the “financial burden associated with becoming a teacher” is an issue requiring immediate attention. The authors suggested “policymakers and other stakeholders to find ways to offset the costs through fully covering or reimbursing a portion of the educational costs.”
Illinois did pass legislation last year that will reimburse teachers in low-wealth districts for edTPA fees, if funding is appropriated. A spokesman for Pearson said policies regarding financial aid for the exam are set at the state level.
A document responding to edTPA myths notes some institutions fold the cost of the exam into tuition so students can use financial aid, and that Pearson also provides waivers to states with formal agreements to use edTPA “for consequential purposes.” The document also notes, “Fees are not unusual for professional assessments.”