Are the New Teacher Preparation Exams (edTPA) Racially Discriminatory? And, Why Has the State Failed to Listen to Experienced Educators?

Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.
Immanuel Kant

From time to time I meet someone who attended the high school at which I taught, I always ask: “Who was your best teacher?”

They usually answer, “Mr. Greenman.”

Bob is a friend, a wonderful teacher and an author (“Words That Make a Difference“) At a book signing a few years ago the room was filled with former students, a few journalists, attorneys, doctors and yes, even a few teachers, all gathering to pay tribute to their former teacher.

How do we measure “great” teaching?

The State Education Department (SED) and the reformers who run education policy these days would say, “What was his Regents passing rate?” I’m sure Bob, and his hundreds of adoring students, have no idea, or care.

Over the past year SED and the Regents have jumped on the “a great teacher in every classroom” band wagon. We should have the best teachers we can find in classroom, and, BTW, the best doctors in hospitals, the best dentists and the best second baseman.

We probably had the “best teachers” in the 30’s and the 60’s. In the 30’s, the heart of the Depression, the old Board of Examiners created extremely challenging exams and with 16 million unemployed teaching drew the “best and brightest” to the civil service exams. During the 60’s the feds offered deferments from the draft for men who decided to teach in high poverty schools, better the trenches of the South Bronx than the trenches in Vietnam.

As our economy continues to recover from the 2008 economic meltdown, and employment continues to rise, guess what, the number of candidates entering teacher preparation programs will shrink, a constant negative drumbeat, an assault on teachers, attempts to diminish teacher benefits will only chase away prospective candidates; schools of education are beginning to see drops in enrollment.

Teaching has always had a high attrition rate – teaching is hard and for many not rewarding, for decades high poverty, inner city schools had revolving doors, teachers dropped by the wayside or moved on to higher achieving schools in better neighborhoods.

The road to certification varied from state to state, as did teacher quality. In New York State a Master’s Degree is required, in other states a Bachelor degree, in some states teachers commonly come from the lower half of their graduating class, in other states prospective teachers must pass a variety of exams.

The State Education Department has approved a seemingly endless line of college teacher education programs over the years.

There is general agreement that teacher education programs should meet a higher standard.

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), issued a Report a year ago that recommended significantly increasing standards for teacher training institutions. The expectation is that as schools of education apply or reapply for CAEP accreditation they would have to meet the new and higher standards.

An example of a CAEP standard,

The provider sets admissions requirements, including CAEP minimum criteria or the state’s minimum criteria, whichever are higher, and gathers data to monitor applicants and the selected pool of candidates. The provider ensures that the average grade point average of its accepted cohort of candidates meets or exceeds the CAEP minimum of 3.0, and the group average performance on nationally normed ability/achievement assessments such as ACT, SAT, or GRE:

• is in the top 50 percent from 2016-2017;
• is in the top 40 percent of the distribution from 2018-2019; and
• is in the top 33 percent of the distribution by 2020.

The CAEP process would restrict the pool of prospective teachers by limiting the admission to education preparation programs over a number of years to students in the top third of the ACT/SAT/GRE exam pool.

New York State decided to move in a different direction. The State decided to ratchet up the exit rules from schools of education, and, to do it immediately.

For years candidate teachers had to be recommended by the teacher education program and pass two examinations – the passing rates on the exams was well above 90%. The SED decided to change the exam structure: they adopted a well-regarded exam from Stanford University, the edTPA, “The edTPA requires a lengthy electronic portfolio that includes written work and videos of candidates interacting with K-12 students,” while thirty states are in the process of adopting only NYS and Washington have adopted and NYS set a higher pass score.

In addition teacher candidates must pass two additional exams: the 135 minute computer-based Educating All Students (EAS) test (read description here) and the 210 minute, computer-based Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) (read description here).

The commissioner presented the Regents with proposed cut scores and the Regents members who were educators strongly objected, the scores were much too high, and suggested that the scores be phased in over five years. How could colleges be expected to alter their curriculum with no notice? How could students be expected to pass an exam which may not have been the subject of the courses they took? And, most importantly, is there evidence that the Pearson-created exams are “valid and reliable” predictors of teacher success? Are the exams actually “job-related”? Or, just an academic exercise?

Unfortunately experienced educator voice was ignored, the commissioner set high cut scores with no phase-in period.

Over the months the same pushback from the field occurred that occurred over the imposition of high cut scores for the Common Core student exams. With pressure from the State legislature the SED agreed to allow the old exams to be used for one additional year.

At the November Regents meeting the SED reported on year one results of the exams. (See Report here

Pass Rates:
edTPA the pass rate was 81%
EAS the pass rate was 77%
ALST the pass rate was 68%

On a protected site, not available on the NYSED site, the results by race:

The pass rate for White test takers on the EAS was 82%, Non-White test takers 74%
The pass rate for White test takers on the ALST was 74%, Non-White test takers 55%

It appears that the required EAS and ALST tests, pursuant to Duke and Chance are racially discriminatory test.

The new, untested, teacher certification tests are acting in direct opposition to one of the primary goals of the State and also the US Department of Education, Arne Duncan (See 5 minute U-Tube here) wants our teaching force to reflect the diversity of our schools.

The exams are not only reducing the diversity of our teaching force, the exams ignore standards set by prior court decisions.

In 1971 the Supreme Court, in Griggs v Duke Power Company ruled,

The facts of this case demonstrate the inadequacy of broad and general testing devices, as well as the infirmity of using diplomas or degrees as fixed measures of capability. History is filled with examples of men and women who rendered highly effective performance without the conventional badges of accomplishment in terms of certificates, diplomas, or degrees. Diplomas and tests are useful servants, but Congress has mandated the common sense proposition that they are not to become masters of reality

A year later in a New York City case, Chance v. Board of Examiner the appellate court sustained the opinion of the trial court. The Board of Examiner licensing exams which had been the sole path to a supervisory position in New York City were challenged due to wide disparities in passing rates between white and black/Hispanic test takers,

Judge Feinberg wrote in Chance v The Board of Examiners (1972),

[T]he examinations prepared and administered by the Board of Examiners for the licensing of supervisory personnel, such as Principals and Assistant Principals, have the de facto effect of discriminating significantly and substantially against Black and Puerto Rican applicants.

The judge further found:

Such a discriminatory impact is constitutionally suspect and places the burden on the Board to show that the examinations can be justified as necessary to obtain Principals, Assistant Principals and supervisors possessing the skills and qualifications required for successful performance of the duties of these positions. The Board has failed to meet this burden.

Although it has taken some steps towards securing content and predictive validity for the examinations and has been improving the examinations during the last two years, the Board has not in practice achieved the goals of constructing examination procedures that are truly job-related.

Even were we to accept the City’s allegation that any discrimination here resulted from thoughtlessness rather than a purposeful scheme, the City may not escape responsibility for placing its black citizens under a severe disadvantage which it cannot justify

The commissioner and the Regents could have phased in the exams and as well as tracking graduates – how did the performance of the graduate correlate with their exam scores? The current teacher evaluation tool is divided into three separate sections; the newly appointed teachers can be tracked in the three categories: How did principals “score” the teachers? How did the students of the newer teachers achieve on state tests? The key question: Are the tests “valid and reliable” indicators of teacher effectiveness?

The new CAEP standards are being phased in with the expectation that the standards will be in place by 2020, the State should have followed the CAEP route, and unfortunately they’re tone deaf.

The Common Core State Standards offered an opportunity to raise the bar for all children; the standards should have been created in the blaze of sunlight not in secret. The standards are not written in stone and should be subject to emendation at the state level, and, the tests, if necessary at all, should have been phased in over a lengthy period. When the State moved from a dual diploma to a single Regents diploma it took twelve years to phase out the old system and phase in the new.

Whether the Regents or the commissioner know it or not the current testing regimen is toxic to parents. Tens of thousands of parents will opt out in the new round of testing. The recent attempt to mandate field testing of the yet to be adopted PARCC tests is a slap in the face to parents. The opt-out movement is not restricted to New York State; it is a national movement. It is possible that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will remove the annual grades 3-8 testing requirement. New York State could move to sampling methodologies and obtain state student progress data.

I suspect the State legislature will begin to rewrite regulations adopted by the Regents. In the past the legislature has been reluctant to pass legislation that altered education policy. Not so since the last round of State tests.

As thousands of emails flood in-boxes of legislators and parents flock to legislative town halls policy making will move across Washington Avenue, from the regal columned headquarters of the State Education Department to the halls of the Assembly and the Senate.

The commissioner and most of the Regents can learn from Mark Twain,

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

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