Some thoughts on #edTPA: Guest Post by Celia Oyler

Celia made the these observations on Facebook in response to the article listed below that appeared in the Times Union.

Student teachers in New York face daunting new exams

The other fall out is that quite a few excellent beginning teachers are choosing NOT to get certified in the state of New York. Quite a number of students in my program — where we have very strong gatekeeping practices — have decided not to comply with the edTPA. They would most assuredly pass (everyone in our pilot would have and they were not hand picked) but are passing on teaching in NYS because they do not think the edTPA is a fair instrument to measure their fitness to teach. They think that our collaborative formative ongoing performance evaluations and portfolio evaluations are better measures. And they decided not to ask the families to sign the Pearson permission form. (Imagine some future day when all the Pearson edTPA videotapes are in InBloom data base and can be data mined…..)

As the director of a mid-sized teacher education that leads to a master’s degree and institutional recommendation for New York State certification and having piloted the edTPA (which is the newly “branded” name for what was a California performance exam of teaching), I disagree strongly with the professor who says that in her opinion the edTPA is “not a horrible exam.” Our candidates piloting the exam last year found it quite horrible. Not because it was hard [all of our candidates would have passed now that we know the “cut scores” that New York State recently (finally) set].

First, the exam costs each candidate $300, which is paid to the Pearson for profit company. The candidates upload approximately 15 minutes of videotape of themselves teaching in their student teaching classroom. (The candidate has to obtain permission from the families for their child’s image and words to be used and Pearson then “owns” the data.) Then, someone sitting at a computer anywhere in the U.S. (maybe anywhere in the world, we do not know for sure about this) is paid $75 by Pearson to watch the videotapes and read the supporting material (approximately 50 pages single spaced) and decide (by him or herself) if the candidate passes and can be certified by the State of New York. Never mind that in our teacher education program the candidate has been observed repeatedly over the course of a full school year, that s/he has been formally assessed through an extensive performance rubric 4 times (by both the cooperating teacher and the university supervisor), and that the candidate has submitted two formal portfolios of her/his teaching (including evaluation of student learning).

Why should one person at remote computer who is being paid $75 decide if my graduates are ready to teach when we have observed them in context for hours and hours and we have extensive observation notes on and we have detailed evaluations from their classroom host teachers?

The actual prompts for the edTPA are also highly problematic. As a teacher for 36 years I was appalled at the version of teaching that was being upheld as desirable. For instance, there is no chance to explain why in the midst of teaching a planned lesson the teacher made a deviation from the plan based on student responses. As all master teachers know it is the deft response to students’ questions and responses that can take a lesson from “good enough” to truly memorable. It is called “contingent response” and it is what marks excellent teachers from rank beginners. Yet, the edTPA does not allow from deviation from the plan. Thus, many candidates are realizing that they need to revise the plan they upload to their edTPA “portfolios” so that there is coherence, which is what the edTPA seems to value. My students’ take away about this: rewrite your plan after you videotape to make sure it matches. (We want to incentive teachers to fake it?)

The edTPA also highly privileges what is called “academic language”. (This is probably what the interviewee in your article was referring to when they mentioned “mixups” with the “nomenclature”.) The edTPA gives lots of points to candidates for being able to discuss language functions and language structures and knowing the difference. This is certainly important for theories of language acquisition and literacy learning but certainly should not be the make or break of the points on the rubrics for deciding if teachers are good enough at their craft to obtain initial certification.

Then there is the issue of what the edTPA calls “differentiation”. Ignoring federal law and most recent research on learners who are not on the same level as their grade level peers, the authors of the edTPA ignore all the field knows about Universal Design for Learning — asking teachers to design accessible to all lessons right from the start — and instead asks candidates to describe the deficits of particular students and the special differences you provided for them in the lesson. This is certainly a popular approach to disability and difference but it is old fashioned, and should certainly not be encoded in state-level certification plans. Shouldn’t new assessments ask people to grow beyond older ideas?

Finally, I wonder about the universality of the rating system for the edTPA. My student teachers are filming their “segments” in classes with immigrant English learners and in conditions not known in many suburban and rural communities. Can one instrument and rater really understand the role of context in both learning to teach and to teach in ways that are culturally responsive and locally dependent? Can a rater and rubric analyze the most fundamental aspect of teaching: how the candidate builds relationships with learners to be engaged in provoking dynamic learning day to day?

Why has New York State turned over such an important decision as the certification of teachers to a for profit company staffed by people sitting at remote computer monitors?


  1. […] Celia made the these observations on Facebook in response to the article listed below that appeared in the Times Union. Student teachers in New York face daunting new exams The other fall out is that quite a few excellent beginning teachers are choosing NOT to get certified in the state of New York. Quite a […] Read the full article […]

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