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"Reforms" Undermine Teacher Preparation in the United States

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The secondary education student teachers I work with in New York State are in the process of completing and submitting their edTPA portfolio to Pearson for evaluation. They generally include two ten-minute video segments cut out of three 40+ minute lessons and approximately sixty pages of commentary with sample student work. It is an arduous task that takes months to complete. Instead of learning how to become teachers, they learn how to master edTPA.

In New York State, the Pearson evaluated edTPA portfolio is a requirement for teacher certification, despite the fact that its legitimacy is constantly challenged by teacher educators and the union representing faculty in the state university system. It is one of those "higher standards" education reforms that seem to spread like a virus without any evidence that it will improve the quality of teaching or student learning. Unfortunately there is no vaccine in sight.

Starting this spring, edTPA will also be used to evaluate prospective teachers in New Jersey and it is expected to be fully implemented by the 2017-2018 academic year. New Jersey, like New York, has also raised the entry grade point average for teacher education programs to a 3.0 or B average, without any evidence that this will in any way improve teaching. The new requirement will be particularly hard on minority students who attended poorly performing inner-city schools and have a steep climb in college to master college-level work and students who have to work while attending school.

Ohio has also implemented a form of edTPA, although in a different way. In Ohio, beginning teachers complete and submit their version of edTPA portfolios, Ohio Resident Educator Summative Assessment (RESA), during their third year of teaching, in this case replacing evaluations by school-based supervisors. An email I received from an Ohio teacher described the RESA program as "the worst experience I've had since becoming a teacher. I am 39 and a former attorney, and even studying for the bar doesn't come close to the pointlessness of the RESA program . . . The worst part is that the RESA constantly stresses providing constructive feedback to our students. Yet when a teacher 'Fails' the RESA, Educopia and its mystery assessors provide hardly any feedback at all to teachers. It is a simple 'pass' or 'Fail' with no feedback for a teacher on how to improve. Just awful."

The Ohio portfolio assessments were designed Teachscape and are evaluated by a spin-off company called Educopia. Teachscape and Educopia founders include Mark Atkinson, an Emmy Award-winning ABC News producer. Atkinson's companies created and marketed teacher observation and evaluation tools modeled on work by Charlotte Danielson, online courses, and videos. Teachscape was eventually sold to a hedge fund invest firm.

edTPA was created at Stanford University by a sub-division called SCALE and is administered and graded by Pearson. Essentially SCALE and Pearson decided they could replace student teacher evaluations by university field supervisors and cooperating teachers with an electronic portfolio. However, the package takes so much time to complete that it detracts from the ability of student teachers to learn what they are supposed to learn, which is how to be effective beginning teachers who connect with students and help students achieve. The edTPA website claims thirty-eight states and Washington DC participate in the program, although different states use it differently.

According to SCALE, "The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) has partnered with Teachscape and the Ohio Department of Education to develop the Ohio Resident Educator Summative Assessment (RESA), a performance based assessment of teaching." In addition, RESA's evaluation guidelines are adapted from edTPA. Other ties between Ohio's RESA, SCALE and edTPA are indirect.For example, an article and video by Linda Darling-Hammond of SCALE is used on its website to promote Educopia.

Initially, Pearson promised that to ensure grading reliability, three scorers would review each edTPA submission, but when this proved to costly, the number of readers for each portfolio was cut to one. Pearson promised state education departments and applicants that they did not have to worry because marginal papers would be read again. But of course they originally promised three readers.

SCALE/Pearson/RESA/edTPA has generated an online industry of test preparation companies that promise, for a fee, to ensure that portfolios are approved, which effectively invalidates the entire process. It is a testing monstrosity that should be abandoned.

Michael Ludwig is an Associate Professor of Health Education at Hofstra University. On April 22, 2106 he sent this letter to edTPA expressing his frustration with the entire process. Student names have been deleted.

Dear edTPA,

Where do I begin?

With the fact that I have over 30 years' experience in health education that includes work as a teacher at the middle school, high school, and higher education levels?

With the fact that I have three degrees (BS, MS, PhD) in health education but apparently I can't be trusted to judge whether or not someone is prepared to lead a health education classroom?

With the fact that the art and craft of teaching has been reduced to a series of bureaucratic measurements done by someone who has never met the aspiring teacher?

With the fact that while I was intensely skeptical of edTPA from the start, I worked diligently to "get up to speed" and revised our curriculum and program to meet the demands of edTPA despite the fact that the vast majority of our master's degree students are already certified and do not have to submit a portfolio?

With the fact that the way New York State rolled out edTPA is now viewed as a textbook case of how NOT to do it?

With the fact that a high stakes decision such as teacher licensing is decided by a Pearson employee who has never met and will never meet the candidates submitting their edTPA portfolio?

With the fact that my 2 years of work with health education teacher candidates no longer has any bearing on whether or not they are able to get licensed to teach in New York State?
With the fact that despite the cooperating teachers' beliefs at my students' field work placements that my students were progressing appropriately and were on track to become master teachers counts for nothing?

With the fact that edTPA scorers are not required to have experience as classroom teachers?

With the fact that edTPA scorers are paid a paltry $75 to decide whether or not a candidate is allowed to realize a dream?

With the fact that despite all my misgivings, I registered to become a health education scorer for Pearson's edTPA so as to better be able to provide support to my health education students?

As I'm certain you will not address all the previous questions (which are posed rhetorically), I will attempt to provide some context for this note by answering this last question. I am currently employed by Pearson to become a health education edTPA scorer. I have not completed my training and have come to realize even more than I first believed, that the entire edTPA process is a fraud that I will no longer participate in. However, humor me and let me provide some background:

I scored the first health education practice portfolio and was told during the subsequent webinar that I was the best scorer they had worked with to date. I was told that I hit the majority of the rubrics with the score that was expected and the few that I didn't get exactly were adjacent. As the demands of the semester increased, I never got around to scoring and submitting the second practice portfolio. One of the demands I was facing was to support a candidate during her student teaching.

I supported my current candidate as she designed, implemented, and evaluated three consecutive lessons on stress management for her edTPA portfolio where we both used the "Thinking Behind the Rubrics" as our guide and were confident that no rubric was below a three and that most of them should have earned a four or five.

I followed edTPA's guidelines for appropriate candidate support but frankly I'm not sure I could have written a better series of lessons. However, my informal assessment of the portfolio was deemed VERY wrong. I say that because yesterday edTPA sent the score report back to my student (she shared it with me) and found 14 of the 15 rubrics were scored a two, with one rubric (#6) scored a three? Now, like any good researcher, I understand the role bias could play in my reading of my student's portfolio. However, these scores were so divergent from where I believed they should be that I have to believe that the portfolio was given only a cursory read at best. Or, there had to be some issue with the scorer. The notion that there is no recourse and that the scoring system lacks any degree of transparency is ludicrous. A person should have to defend and support his/her assessment. Reading the comments of the edTPA score report told me that whoever that person is, he/she either didn't understand the writing or he/she didn't bother to read carefully. Not that it's germane to this issue but this candidate has at least three peer-reviewed publications in journals.

The fact that this process costs $300 is a heavy burden for many aspiring educators. Further, the fact that edTPA charges an additional $100 for a rescore in unconscionable. My student submitted her portfolio on March 22, 2016 and was one of the first to submit from Hofstra University. I feel one source of scorer error could be due to this early submission.

I insist that edTPA re-examine the submission by a fully trained and vetted veteran scorer of health education portfolios at no charge to her. I have concerns about the process: If a person has their portfolio rescored, is the scorer told that it is a "rescore"? If so, they would have to know that the rescore was the result of not passing on the initial scoring which would clearly bias the scorer. I must admit I have no faith in the edTPA system. The system crushed a promising young woman who worked tirelessly to follow the edTPA handbook. Not only that, and more importantly, this prospective teacher was ultimately most interested in teaching her students the functional knowledge and health-related skills so as facilitate and improve their health and wellbeing.

I could go on but others have done an excellent job questioning the usefulness of edTPA. I would imagine you are familiar with these critiques and have dismissed them. I believe they are largely accurate and spot on.


Michael J. Ludwig, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Health Education
Hofstra University