New York State to Review Teacher Certification Exams

New York State to Review Teacher Certification Exams
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At its February 13, 2017 meeting, the New York State Board of Regents, the governing body for educational policy in the state, is scheduled to review teacher certification requirements. The Board will consider recommendations made by its edTPA Task Force.

New York State currently requires that teacher certification candidates complete four exams either created or administered by Pearson. Three written exams have a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions. The fourth is a complex sixty-page portfolio submission known as edTPA.

edTPA was created at Stanford University by a sub-division called SCALE and is administered and graded by Pearson. Essentially SCALE, Pearson, and New York State decided to replace student teacher evaluations by university field supervisors and cooperating teachers with an electronic portfolio, supposedly to ensure higher standards. As of September 1, 2017 edTPA will also be required in New Jersey.

This is an opportunity for teachers, educational professionals, and the general public to press for changes in the current seriously flawed teacher certification process that was mandated by the Regents in 2014. The main recommendations in the report released by State Education are to "maintain the edTPA as a certification requirement for teachers, but convene a standard setting panel to review and potentially recalibrate the passing score." They also want to gradually increase the passing score over the next four years but do not explain why. At the same time they want the State Education Department to "establish a multiple measure review process whereby a teacher candidate who fails the edTPA may be recommended by his/her program faculty." The committee would like to see an alternative performance assessment when a mismatch occurs between the edTPA and professional practices in a specialty area. If that recommendation is approved it would open the door to eliminating edTPA's monopoly in New York State and weaken Pearson's hold over teacher certification.

These taskforce recommendations themselves are flawed. According to dissenting committee members who spoke off-the-record, the report submitted to the Regents assumes the validity of the Pearson tests and ignores proposals for a menu of alternative evaluations such as those used in other states along with edTPA or instead of it. They also questioned ties between committee members and SCALE and the relationship between State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and SCALE spokesperson Linda Darling-Hammond, who was present at the January Regents meeting. The version of the report released by State Education discusses working with "product developers" and "vendors" but suspiciously never identifies them. The actual task force report, according to committee members, called on the State Education Department to include teacher education faculty and professional staff (e.g., teacher certification officers, field placement staff) in all future deliberations.

David Gerwin of Queens College-CUNY who served on the Task Force and was willing to be quoted. According to Gerwin, the submitted report did not include what his sub-committee initially submitted. There was consensus on the taskforce that performance assessment is an important component in teacher education, but "that doesn't automatically translate to support for edTPA." Gerwin has "served on two NYS edTPA taskforces since the test's implementation year" and complains, "we lack particular kinds of data that would enable stakeholders to consider the implications of current edTPA policies and envision future ones. We have pass rates on the exam, and we know how many people have taken it; but we do not know how many people have student taught without submitting an edTPA for state certification." At Queens College in 2014 "one third of the students who completed two semesters of student teaching that year had not submitted an edTPA by the following January." It was difficult for the taskforce to operate because "The state has not collected such data; nor, during the operation of the safety net, has the state gathered data on how students from the same program compare in their employability, effectiveness, and longevity in the field."

A big part of the problem with the released report is that it does not include any data to support its recommendations, especially for continuing edTPA. Is it fair to charge college students hundreds of dollars in order to have a questionable assessment evaluated by unnamed and unknown assessors selected by Pearson? What are the percentages for passing and mastery on the portfolio? How many students have been certified using a safety net that allows them to bypass edTPA? How do scores on edTPA and other certification tests differ by region, college, race/ethnicity, gender, and certification area? New York State and Pearson teacher certification exams have been thrown out by the courts in the past because of racial bias. But the biggest question is "Why keep edTPA at all?"

In their edTPA Annual Administrative Report for 2015, SCALE and Pearson claim edTPA is a valid assessment of teaching performance because it was developed based on research and theory and "evidence based on content and internal structure." Covered over in the jargon is any evidence that edTPA measures good teaching or that K-12 students whose teachers were evaluated for certification using edTPA perform better in school. If they want to sell their product in New York State, they should provide that evidence.

SCALE and Pearson also conceded that edTPA candidates scored highest when working in middle-class suburban school districts, which suggests edTPA is not measuring teaching ability but school setting and the socio-economic status of students. They also acknowledged that (a) candidates submitting edTPA portfolios were overwhelmingly white and (b) that African American candidates, more likely to be placed in urban settings with high-needs students, scored significantly lower on the portfolio assessment. The report did not give a demographic breakdown of edTPA assessors or report on the types of schools where they were teachers.

Taskforce member Jamie Dangler, an associate professor of sociology at SUNY Cortland and Vice President for Academics of United University Professions, the union that represents faculty at the State University of New York, urges teachers, parents, and students, to contact Regents members and the New York State Education Commissioner and urge them to fix the broken teacher certification system. Contact information is available on the UUP webpage.

The federal government and State Education Departments demand that teachers use data to inform instruction. Where is the data to support edTPA?

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