NY Educators Write On edTPA Benefits

Teacher educators in New York who have used edTPA write about how edTPA has supported their teaching, program development, and candidate learning. Read the full article below

In Support of a Performance Assessment of Teaching
June, 2014

Beverly Falk, Professor and Director, Graduate Program in Early Childhood Education, The City College of New York
Jeanne Angus, Assistant Professor and Program Director, Graduate Program in Special Education, Brooklyn College
Greg Borman, Lecturer, Secondary Science Education, The City College of New York
Nancy Cardwell, Assistant Professor, Graduate Program in Early Childhood Education, The City College of New York
Joni Kolman, Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture, The City College of New York
Geraldine Faria, Assistant Dean, School of Education, Brooklyn College
Christy Folsom, Associate Professor, Childhood Education, Lehman College
Nancy Martin, Adjunct instructor, Childhood Science Education, Brooklyn College
Andrew Ratner, Assistant Professor, Secondary English Language Arts Education, The City College of New York
Deborah Shanley, Professor, Special Education/English, Secondary Education and Dean, School of Education, Brooklyn College
Jacqueline D. Shannon, Associate Professor and Chair
, Department of Early Childhood Education/Art Education
, Brooklyn College
Beverly Smith, Associate Professor, Secondary Mathematics Education, The City College of New York
Christina Taharally, Associate Professor and Director, Graduate Programs in Early Childhood Education, Hunter College

The media and the blogosphere have been filled with discussions about teacher education. Think tanks, states, and the federal government have questioned the efficacy of teacher preparation programs and are proposing accountability measures that resemble the increasingly unpopular high-stakes testing in p-12 schools. Many have responded to these problematic policies, which emphasize targets and sanctions rather than supports to improve, with critiques of the dysfunctional consequences they generate: an over-emphasis on tests that narrow the curriculum and the use of value-added measures (such as students’ test scores to evaluate teachers and graduates of teacher education programs) that do not account for all of the complex factors influencing learning. Critics rightly point to these policies as creating disincentives to teach students who traditionally do not score well on tests (those who are poor, new immigrants, who are English language learners, or who have special needs).

Ironically, some who are reacting to these negative effects of the test and punish approach are including in their attacks an initiative specifically designed to push back against it. They target a performance assessment for teachers designed by the profession for the profession – the edTPA – which calls on prospective teachers to demonstrate through performance that they have professionally agreed-upon skills and knowledge to enter a classroom ready to teach. Some who oppose edTPA make inaccurate assertions that range from claiming it is tied to a high-stakes testing regime and outsources evaluations to a private corporation, Pearson, to arguing that edTPA distracts student teachers from learning how to connect ideas to young people.

We, teacher educators who have used the edTPA, write here to offer a different perspective – to share how edTPA has supported our teaching, our program development, and our students’ learning.

Who we are:
We are teacher educators from the City University of New York, a university comprised of many campuses across NYC that serve a socioeconomically, culturally, racially, and linguistically diverse population of students. We are advocates for equity and access in education. We support culturally-responsive teaching and assessment practices that focus on deep understanding, critical thinking, and analysis of complex issues. We believe assessment should examine what learners know and can do in authentic contexts and that assessment results should be used to support and improve, not target and sanction. Additionally, we support national efforts to make educator preparation more clinically based so that graduates of educator preparation programs are supported in the context of real-life teaching to combine theoretical with practical knowledge so that they can enter their classrooms ready for the incredibly difficult realities of teaching.

Because of these values we welcome edTPA – a performance assessment of teaching developed by hundreds of teachers and teacher educators across the country, in a process led by Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE), with support from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). Based on 25 years of research and practice, this assessment is currently being used in over 500 institutions in 34 states across the United States. In New York State, it is newly required for certification. After using it for a year, we find edTPA to be a tool for our improvement and a valuable guide to effective teaching.

edTPA: A performance assessment of commonly-agreed upon foundational skills
For those who are not familiar with edTPA, here is a brief outline of what it requires. It is a performance assessment that consists of three tasks that call on prospective teachers to demonstrate and explain their ability to carry out universally-accepted essentials of good teaching:

  1. Plan 3-5 inter-related learning experiences, taking into consideration the cultural, linguistic, and learning backgrounds of students;
  2. Teach what they have planned, demonstrating through video a segment of a learning experience that is accompanied by a reflective commentary; and
  3. Assess students’ work – examining artifacts of students’ work, including students with learning and language needs, for the purpose of using what has been learned from the students’ work to inform future teaching.

Opponents claim that the developers of edTPA (which often are inaccurately referred to as including Pearson and New York State) have reduced performance assessment to a writing exercise.

To the contrary, we do not see the edTPA as a tedious writing exercise. Indeed the requirements of the edTPA are teaching: planning a curriculum, teaching it for several days, adjusting the plans based on what students are learning, assigning and evaluating student work to shape future teaching is, in fact, what teachers do.

In addition to the actual teaching, we have experienced edTPA as a useful opportunity to reflect on teaching strategies and students’ needs. We believe, as do the many representatives of professional associations and experienced educators who helped develop edTPA, that an essential part of teaching professionalism is being able to explain what we do and why we do it. Only educators who can articulate and defend their practices can uphold the professionalism needed to strengthen our field. Furthermore, we do not agree that edTPA demands only one way to demonstrate what is good teaching. The lessons candidates plan are developed by the teachers themselves; they choose the materials they use; the strategies they employ are their choice. The assessment offers a frame that has room for many different approaches. We do not think it takes the artistry out of teaching but instead, by sharpening the focus of our preparation on commonly-agreed upon foundational skills, it encourages the artistry and the joy of teaching to take place.

edTPA is controlled and scored by the profession, not the Pearson corporation.
Contrary to how some want to describe edTPA, it is not a Pearson assessment. The facts are that Pearson is an operational partner (much like the publisher of a text), responsible for creating and managing the online platform that collects portfolios and delivers them to the teachers and teacher educators who score them. This capacity enables the assessment to be used on a national basis.

edTPA is not scored by Pearson. The facts are that edTPA is scored by experienced teachers and teacher educators who are rigorously selected through a process developed by the national consortium of educators who designed edTPA. Scorers are rigorously trained and taught to examine prospective teachers’ work in relation to commonly-agreed-upon descriptors of exemplary practice (also a process designed by the edTPA consortium).

In our experience, using edTPA has not taken the development and evaluation of our students out of the hands of our faculty, trained field supervisors, or cooperating teachers. Rather, it has been a helpful complement to our coursework and to the feedback we offer in clinical experiences. In fact, as a result of working with edTPA, not only have we been prompted to develop more coherence in our courses and across our programs, but we have found that edTPA has prompted our prospective teachers to demonstrate a more intentional and reflective approach to their teaching. Overall, we believe that the edTPA is helping us to better prepare our graduates.

Prospective teachers’ perspectives
The perspectives of teacher candidates who have taken edTPA confirm what we have experienced. In a recent state pilot of edTPA, for example, researchers found that 96% of teacher candidates reported that the edTPA was a positive influence on their learning, pointing especially to how it made them more self-aware and focused them on student learning. More than 90% of teacher educators reported the experience of supporting edTPA enabled them to reflect on and improve their program design and instruction. For more evidence about the effects of this assessment on candidate learning and teacher education improvement, see http://edtpa.aacte.org/resources.

These research findings are reflected in the remarks of Peter Turner, a graduate of The City College of New York’s School of Education, who noted in a recent interview:

[Although I had student taught already], for me [edTPA] was the first time that I considered every aspect of what it means to be an effective teacher…. The edTPA is a good test because it scaffolds every aspect of what a teacher needs to do. It was a wonderfully educative experience for me. — Peter Turner, City College of New York

Lehman College graduate, Roshawna Cooper, adds:

Looking at my lesson plans when I was doing edTPA and looking at my older lesson plans when I did methods courses without edTPA, I missed a whole chunk. There was a lot missing. I am so much more mindful of my students now when I am teaching and the effectiveness of my different lessons. I am more mindful about how to build on each lesson to support my students’ skills. And that is really big. ( See http://edtpa.aacte.org/resources/candidate-to-candidate-reflections-on-taking-edtpa)

Safe to practice/ready to teach: Accountability by the profession for the profession
All professions have external certification exams and commonly-agreed upon sets of foundational knowledge. In fact, professions that are responsible for the safety and well-being of humans all require that their certification processes demonstrate not only that new entrants to the profession have knowledge and skills but that they know how to apply these knowledge and skills and are safe to practice with those entrusted to their care. We believe that edTPA, by asking new teachers to demonstrate that they know how to teach before they are given the privilege of taking responsibility for children’s lives, is a genuine and valid measure of our work. Because edTPA’s rich descriptions and analyses of teaching are aligned with critical commonly-agreed upon elements of effective practice while allowing for individuality and flexibility in content and style, we believe it serves as a useful tool and guide for teaching and is a positive step forward for us as a profession.

Although there is no such thing as a perfect assessment, especially for something as complex as teaching, we believe that edTPA vastly improves the process by which teachers are certified in New York State. It is a mechanism for us as teacher educators to demonstrate the outcomes of our work and to hold ourselves, as a profession, accountable for what we do. It stands as a viable genuine accountability measure for graduates of teacher education as opposed to sole reliance on standardized tests. While its implementation has posed challenges and calls out for changes in “business as usual” in teacher education, we believe these changes are well worth it because edTPA reflects our aspirations, celebrating what it means to be a teacher and putting into practice the educative aspect of what high quality assessment should be.

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