edTPA: Should Externally Designed National Tests Drive Teacher Preparation Programs and Curricula?

Marc Korashan is a long time union activist an adjunct professor at a local college and a frequent commenter on this blog. The following are his impressions from a discussion at the AFT Convention.

One of the more overlooked aspects of attending a national convention is the chance to look at issues from new perspectives. For me this was particularly true around the issue of the use of new teacher certification test, the EdTPA which came up in a resolution entitled “EdTPA and Respect for the Professionalism of Teacher Educators” from the Higher Education Committee.

The resolution opposes the use of this measure, which has no proven validity, as an entrance criterion for the teacher profession. We don’t know if this test really predicts who will be a good teacher. It presumes a specific pedagogical technique is applicable in all classes and it rigidly evaluates whether the teacher candidate is applying it. These problems have been evident for me in my work with first and second year Teaching Fellows (an alternative certification path in New York City geared to career changers).

The discussion from the floor, however, was focused on less visible but more vexing problem. The impact of this assessment on teacher preparation programs, curricula, and the academic freedom of teacher educators. The point was made that in order to prepare teacher candidates for the test; schools of education were warping their offerings and curricula to match the demands of the test. Teacher is being standardized, routinized and forced away from the kind of wide ranging examination of pedagogy, child development, and social issues that it should be, into a lock-step model that focused on the assumptions about what constitutes good teaching embedded into the test by its anonymous, corporate authors (the test was developed by Stanford University and now associated with Pearson); assumptions whose validity, as already noted, have not been tested or validated.

As many speakers noted, this does to university educators what the educational “reform” movement has done to P-12 educators. It makes tests the only measure of effectiveness. University based teacher educators rightly fear that they and their programs will be evaluated based on how well their graduates, who were able to enter teaching only because they scored well on an unproven measure of their potential, are able to raise the achievement of their students on other seriously flawed test-based metrics.

While well informed on the problems with Value Added Measures (which are nowhere near ready for prime time), I am also deep into the work of supporting first and second year teachers and found this discussion enlightening.

Most importantly it highlighted the need for teachers to take charge of the profession. We are, as far as I know, the only profession where politicians determine the entrance criteria. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, all enter the profession through programs and examinations designed by practitioners. Teachers are certified by the state if they meet criteria set by law and complete a teacher education program. New York State currently requires that teachers pass three tests, included in the EdTPA process and earn a Masters’ degree from an accredited Teacher Education program.

These programs are worried they can lose their accreditation if candidates do not pass the EdTPA (or if the students they teach do not show sufficient gain on the teacher accountability metrics). This fear can drive these programs into test-prep mode and give their graduates the false impression that there is only one acceptable method of pedagogy, when we as practitioners know that flexibility is the key to meeting students, especially struggling, disabled, and ELL students, where they are and engaging them in the educational process. One size, one approach will never fit every student.

It is time for the AFT and the NEA to begin to lay out their own vision for a meaningful teacher preparation and certification process; one that leaves candidates truly prepared for the rigors of the profession, able and willing to work with the neediest students across the country. We need to make the profit-driven corporations defend their work and demonstrate how it is better or more meaningful than what teachers can do collectively on their own.

I liked the charter school teacher who defined a charter school as one where, instead of a superintendent, the school reported to a corporation. Do we really want a system where test publishers determine the curriculum and rate teachers and teacher education programs based on student test scores?

See AFT White Paper: Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession (http://www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/raisingthebar2012.pdf)

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2 responses to “edTPA: Should Externally Designed National Tests Drive Teacher Preparation Programs and Curricula?

  1. Foil Jacqueline

    I thoroughly agree with Marc Korashan’s discussion about the kind of testing that should be in place for teacher’s entry into the profession. I did my doctoral studies at Syracuse University in Teaching and Curriculum. One of the many things I learned was there was not one right way to teach. There’s the “next new thing”; the way it’s always been done by the teachers who taught me; right brain, left brain; cooperative learning and the list goes on. What usually works is when kids get involved and different modalities work with different kids.
    The most important thing he pointed out is we’re one of the only professions that have non-educators, non-professionals making the decision about who should teach and what they should teach.
    Thanks Marc. I hope somebody hears you and acts on what you said.

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  2. I believe that the other professions are willing and able to bring clearer definition to the criteria of performance upon which they are evaluated and to the curriculum under which they themselves learn. Respectfully, the modalities used in teaching physics takes a back seat to the content knowledge required to make the subject matter come alive in the classroom – at least from my perspective. There are absolutely no common agreements on our professional side regarding the core essentials of good teaching and therefore the outsiders naturally take the lead. Even the public at large has difficulty understanding our positions that collaborative teams, learning styles, differentiated approaches, critical thinking when there’s not much to think about, student group work, leveling libraries to guarantee low grade learning and sitting on a dirty carpet are the hallmarks of good teaching. Not only does it not “sell”, but after decades of application, these “next new things” have been nothing short of a flop. When are we going to have the courage to step up to the plate, as a beginning, and assert that, for example, a strong instructional aim that promotes a need to know, aligned to a credible curriculum that’s “got content”, is where good teaching begins? There must be some research that supports the claim that a clear and meaningful purpose of a lesson is an essential component of effective teaching and learning! Now even this old timer and my younger next store neighbor can understand that.

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