By Christopher Bjork and Irving Epstein
As educators who work with college students interested in becoming teachers, we wholeheartedly agree that the education system needs intelligent, committed, well-prepared individuals staffing its classrooms. Teachers should be held to high standards and continually work to improve their practice. We recognize the benefits of “using multiple measures of teacher performance” (Sato, 2014, p. 2) to identify the strengths and weaknesses of both teachers and teacher education programs. And while the edTPA assessment system was designed to produce such outcomes, we believe that the system is a dangerous and inappropriate tool for assessing the capabilities of pre-service teachers.
The realization that the edTPA has indeed proven detrimental to our students’ growth and professional development prompted us to write this essay, as previous reports on edTPA have not adequately considered the practical implications of the new licensure requirements.
[[quote]]The edTPA has proven detrimental to our students’ growth and professional development [[/quote]]edTPA was developed based upon the insights gained from previous performance-based assessments of teaching such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the California Teacher Performance Assessment, and the Performance Assessment for California Teachers. These instruments were considered more rigorous and authentic measures of instructional competence than the multiple-choice written examinations that previously served as entry points into the teaching profession in most states. TPAs require applicants to videotape themselves teaching, collect and analyze student work samples, and critically analyze their pedagogical performance (Sato, Wei, & Darling-Hammond, 2008). Advocates of these assessments convincingly argue that “dynamic assessments can help to elevate instructional quality” (Meuwissen & Choppin, 2015, 4). These activities do demand a level of intellectual engagement more deeply than is the case with standardized teaching tests, such as PRAXIS. However, teaching includes a polymorphous set of activities whose relevance depends on their dynamic, interrelated, and contextually specific nature, and the edTPA has the effect of privileging some of the elements of teaching at the expense of others.
Because our teacher education programs have always required students to carry out tasks associated with meaningful professional development, we assumed that introduction of the edTPA would have minimal effect on our programs. Before adoption of edTPA, we required students to videotape classroom interactions and critically evaluate them. In other cases, we asked pupils to comment on the disciplinary knowledge they acquired outside their education courses and to analyze how various disciplinary approaches to the liberal arts were applied to classroom situations. And in still other cases, students had the space to express their emerging professional identities in personal terms. Indeed, because these requirements were in some ways more comprehensive and more rigorous than what is demanded of edTPA test takers, we remained determined not to allow the new requirement to distort the principles that guided teacher preparation at our institutions.
Given the time pressures that force us to accommodate the natural rhythms of professional development to the practical realities of edTPA completion, we, like many of our colleagues at other institutions, have felt obligated to redesign student teaching seminars so they effectively function as edTPA prep courses. As students struggled to make sense of the edTPA handbooks, we have allocated substantial time guiding in preparing their portfolios. To make room for such test prep, we have cancelled guest presentations by mentor teachers from local schools, reduced time previously set aside for student teachers to collaboratively develop curriculum, and devoted less time to working with students in collecting data for their action research projects.
Our initial plans to treat edTPA as an inconsequential encumbrance proved inadvisable in several ways. The process of preparing their edTPA portfolios exacerbates the substantial pressure experienced by student teachers. Keep in mind that, in order to meet deadlines for licensure, student teachers must videotape themselves only a few weeks after they begin their placements. Many have yet to develop their “teaching legs.” But if they delay this task, they will fall behind on the other components of edTPA. As a result, the lessons that determine whether they will be awarded teaching credentials focus on performance during the very beginning of their apprenticeship. By way of comparison, we wonder how a doctor’s performance would be judged during the initial days of her medical residency.
Student teachers relate that edTPA requirements actually undermine their development as educators. As one recently shared in an e-mail, “participating in edTPA has thus far been a process of responding to scores of prewritten, mundane ‘reflection’ questions, having to drastically narrow my creative choices when it comes to planning and teaching lessons, and draining my checking account to pay for it all. This high-stakes evaluation causes undue stress for me and my peers. edTPA is dehumanizing.”
The demands associated with edTPA also have created many of the “agency tensions” described by Meuwissen & Choppin (2015) in their study of the effects of edTPA. It has become increasingly difficult to place student teachers in local schools. Many teachers who previously mentored students are no longer willing to do so, due to perceptions about the extensive demands associated with edTPA. As a result, the pool of potential teacher mentors has shrunk. Logistical challenges associated with obtaining consent forms from videotaped students, setting aside consecutive blocks of instructional time for edTPA filming, and collecting student work samples have created additional complications. For teachers who are experiencing challenges associated with introduction of the Common Core and new teacher evaluation systems (APPR in New York and PARCC testing in Illinois), edTPA is one testing instrument they have some degree of control over — they can choose not to have anything to do with it. Indeed, the fact that Pearson Publishing administers both the edTPA and other state assessment instruments has fueled public anger over the fact that a private corporation is profiting from state-mandated assessment imperatives (Dover et al., 2015).
Our view is that the costs of implementing the edTPA greatly outweigh the perceived benefits. Are students better prepared to face the challenges associated with teaching? We think not. Graduates of our programs received more thorough, developmentally appropriate, and effective preparation before the new licensure policies were implemented; the locally controlled, formative instruments and practices (Cochran-Smith et al., 2013) that previously anchored their education better equipped them with the skills and attitudes to succeed in the classroom. We urge educators working in states that have yet to add edTPA to the list of teacher licensure requirements to resist pressures to accept what might appear to be an inevitable change, and encourage those who, like us, work in states that have adopted the edTPA as a high-stakes assessment instrument, to lobby for its elimination as a mandated licensure requirement.
Cochran-Smith, M., Piazza, P., & Power, C. (2013). The politics of accountability: Assessing teacher education in the United States. The Education Forum, 77 (1), 6-27.
Dover, A., Schultz, B., Smith, K., & Duggan, T. (2015, March 30). Who’s preparing our candidate? edTPA, localized knowledge and the outsourcing of teacher evaluation. Teachers College Record. http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17914.
Meuwissen, K. & Choppin, J. (2015). Preservice teachers’ adaptions to tensions associated with the edTPA during its early implementation in New York and Washington States. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23 (103), 1-29.
Sato, M. (2014). What is the underlying conception of teaching of the edTPA? Journal of Teacher Education, 65 (5), 421-434.
Sato, M., Wei, R.C., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2008). Improving teachers’ assessment practices through professional development: The case of national board certification. American Educational Research Journal, 45 (3), 669-700.