A Closer Look at the edTPA: Teacher Education Evaluation

In the world of education these days, it seems that assessment—of students, of teachers, of programs, of schools, of entire districts—is on everyone’s mind.  Tracy Recine has written insightfully on this blog (March 21,2014) about using assessment to inform instruction and data to aid us in our classroom assessment practices.  CEL will host a Institute on Critical Issues at Elmhurst College in July to focus on assessment.  K-12 teachers across the nation are wondering about what those high-stakes, large-scale assessments being developed by PARCC and Smarter Balanced will look like and the uses to which they will be put.  In the world of teacher preparation during the last several years, at least in thirty-four states, we who are teaching and students who are preparing to enter the profession are feeling the impact of a new assessment called the edTPA (the Teacher Performance Assessment—I’m not sure why the “ed” was added at a somewhat later date).  In Wisconsin, as is true in some other states, passing grades on the edTPA will be required for licensure.  In other states, the edTPA will be a part of completing a teacher preparation program.  In any case, dealing with the edTPA will be a reality for education students, their professors, and the schools and cooperating teachers who work with teacher candidates.

Tom Scott

Tom Scott

Developed at Stanford University, the edTPA is a portfolio of video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, analyses of student learning, and reflective commentaries.  There are three major divisions to the portfolio: planning, instruction, and assessment.  Fifteen rubrics are used to evaluate whether the work included in the portfolio demonstrates the teacher candidates’ readiness to step into a classroom and teach successfully, which is the stated aim of the assessment.

One of the considerations we have in evaluating any assessment ought to be the quality of the assessment.  Does it measure what it purports to measure?  Is it reliable and valid?  Is it free from bias?  And so on.  When one looks at the edTPA, there’s not much to object to; in fact, most of what is required in the portfolio reflects what has been already taking place in teacher education programs.  We want those who are planning to teach to know their discipline and be able to plan well, make sound pedagogical decisions, assess students fairly and appropriately, manage classrooms  so that learning is possible, engage in reflection so that their practice improves,  etc., and we have devised assessments to measure our students’ developing competence in these areas.   As an assessment, the edTPA approximates the measuring of these skills, and so I don’t have a major quarrel with its format or requirements.

But there are other aspects of sound assessment practice that need to be taken into consideration when thinking about the edTPA, one being the conditions under which the assessment is administered.  Typically, teacher candidates would complete their portfolios during their student teaching semester.  What the edTPA appears to assume, in many cases misguidedly, is that student teachers have complete control over the choices of what they will teach  and how they will teach it, when this is frequently not the case.  Mandated curriculum and approaches to teaching are not infrequent realities our students face, as well as the constraints that cooperating teachers exert on what and how the students are allowed to teach.  As we all know, the ethos and values of classrooms, even within the same school or department, can vary widely, and so student teachers must perform within a context that, to a large extent, has not been of their making.

Then, too, as we all know, there is a discouraging disparity between the haves and the have-nots in our schools.  No one denies the connection between socioeconomic status and educational opportunity and performance.  Issues of equity are troubling and real.  At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where I teach, we have an urban focus, and so my students, for the most part, do their student teaching in urban schools where they frequently face large class sizes, a lack of resources (particularly in the area of technology but even sometimes in the number of books at their disposal), and the social conditions of poverty, racism, violence, and gang activity.  These conditions present challenges different from those that students who are doing their student teaching in affluent suburbs face.  When my students send their portfolios to Pearson Publishing for scoring, I worry that the outside scorers who evaluate my students will not fully take into account the context in which my students are working.  It seems to me that it would be much fairer to leave the assessment of our teacher candidates’ readiness to teach in the hands of those who understand the context in which the students are performing.  Those hands would be the instructors in the schools of education.

In this regard, the National Association for Multicultural Education, which describes itself as “committed to respecting and appreciating cultural diversity, ending racism and discrimination, promoting economic  justice, and developing curricula that are culturally responsible and responsive,” takes this stance in resistance to the edTPA:  “The practice of critical multicultural education cannot, by its nature, be standardized, nor can the development of teachers who will engage in critical multicultural education.  Therefore, NAME supports the principle that authentic assessment of pre-service teachers should be conducted by those who know teacher candidates and their work in the classroom, including cooperating teachers, supervisors and faculty, who are best able to both support and assess the developmental work of becoming a teacher” (see action@NAMEorg.org).   And there are other pockets of resistance to the edTPA initiative, seeing it as another instance in the movement to standardize and corporatize teacher education.

Another issue about the edTPA is a pragmatic one—its cost.  Tuition is already high; in addition, in Wisconsin at least, students are required to take the Praxis I and Praxis II exams administered by ETS at a considerable price.  The edTPA will add another $300 to those costs, and if one of the sections must be redone, another $100 must be paid.  On top of all the other expenses students face, these costs are an additional burden.

I have other concerns about this assessment endeavor, but I will leave those to another time and place.  I would urge, however, that teacher leaders think carefully about the impact of the edTPA , not only on teacher education schools and the pre-service teachers in them, but also on the effects that the edTPA will certainly have on K-12 classrooms.  The edTPA is embedded in a political context.  Teacher leaders can voice their concerns to that context.

Tom Scott
Director of Secondary English Education
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
CEL State Liaison Coordinator

Formative Assessment: Using Student Outcomes to Inform Instruction

Tracy Recine

Tracy Recine

Looking back on my own school years, I can only remember one reason for teachers giving tests: to measure if (or to what extent) we learned the content the teacher had delivered. It was a high-stakes, end of the road sort of thing. There were various formats for assessment, including essays, quizzes, tests and lab reports. Yet, there was this finality to assessment that is unsettling to think about now that – as a teacher – I have a wider perspective. Recently, there has been a great deal of useful research on how we can use assessments to inform instruction, rather than just as a measurement tool for student learning.

Enter…frustration

When I was in grad school in the early 2000’s, my professors talked a lot about linking the assessment to objectives. For example, if I want my students to understand Steinbeck’s use of foreshadowing in Of Mice and Men, the assessment would ask students to demonstrate their understanding by identifying and using textual evidence, by answering teacher-generated questions, etc. This all seemed perfectly logical to me. The teacher guides students’ reading, they come to understand the concept, and then they show that they’ve learned it. So simple! The true teacher reality check (and you know you’ve been there) is when you forego watching the Sunday afternoon NFL games, sit down at your kitchen table with a large cup of coffee and start grading a set of essays you find atrocious, incoherent and, most of all, frustrating. Realizing most of your students actually do not understand foreshadowing, you quickly switch to wine and lament your failure as an educator or, just as likely, the total apathy of the kids. Unfortunately, both might be correct. It’s a dangerous practice to treat any assessment as the last step in the learning process because – newsflash! – not every student is going to understand (or, for that matter, care enough to understand) when the teacher decides it is time for him to get it.

For the love of words

We became English teachers because we love words. We love literature. We love to engage students in critical thinking. But we can’t ignore the fact that we are responsible for teaching specific skills that can be measured. So, why not measure them in a way that can make future learning more useful? According to my brilliant and thoughtful colleague, Matthew Morone, “We need to (begrudgingly) acknowledge that English education is not some random assortment of esoteric and ambiguous ideas/nuances/beliefs and recognize that we do, in fact, teach measurable skills. Things like writing a thesis, recognizing rhetorical devices, vetting a source…can and should be measured throughout a unit of study, not strictly presented on a unit test as a gotcha question OR forgotten about entirely with no assessment whatsoever.”

Data to the rescue

Fortunately, there are ways English educators can design assessments that are not so high stakes and not so final. We can view student outcomes and analyze data in order to design future lessons and curricula that are differentiated and meaningful for students. If you are like most English teachers, you might have wanted to immediately close this window when you saw the word data. I, for one, never thought I would be using Excel spreadsheets for my job as an English teacher. Luckily, my previous, albeit short, career as a paralegal prepared me for this aspect of today’s data-driven, show-me-the-evidence-to-prove-it world of education. I can certainly understand why data is scary to educators today. There are so many unfair measures in place that use student scores to evaluate teachers and to determine whether or not we are doing our jobs well. But we’ll save my feelings about teacher evaluation methods for another day.

With the technology available to us, we are able to immediately access data regarding student answers to reading comprehension questions and written responses to literature. I personally use the LMS, Schoology, for all of my classes. After giving an online quiz, I can, within minutes, see average student scores and responses for each question. I can identify the skill required to answer that question and make a conscious decision to refocus my instruction to meet students’ needs for that skill. Turnitin.com allows teachers to write comments and identify areas of student writing with ready to use explanations of grammatical concepts. Students can then utilize this feedback for another draft or their next writing assignment. One of the most useful technologies I have used is the website Academic Merit. One area of this site, Assessments 21, includes readings of various genres and levels, followed by reading comprehension questions and essay prompts. The multiple choice questions and writing rubrics are aligned with Common Core standards and allow teachers to identify specific areas of concern for each student. We have used this data for our department’s Student Growth Objectives, but I have also found it helpful in guiding writing instruction. Measurable skills like stating a clear thesis, using supporting details and making direct textual references are skills that cannot only be measured, but can be improved with subsequent lessons and class activities. Let us also not forget all the new and innovative ways students can demonstrate measurable skills. They can tweet, post, screencast and share collaborative docs. There are endless tools we can use in our classrooms to not only encourage student engagement but also measure what they know and on which skills they need to work.

Join us in Chicago

Speaking of assessment, CEL is proud to announce our Summer Institute on Critical Issues: Assessment for School Leaders and Teachers, which will take place July 17-19, 2014 at Elmhurst College in Chicago, IL. In addition to hearing from keynote speakers on the topic of assessment, we will work in focused collaborative groups on three strands: formative and summative assessment, assessment of teachers and assessment of curricular programs. Institute participants will select their own strands and form collaborative groups to discuss these issues in depth and develop content to share. For more information about the institute, check out http://www.ncte.org/cel/institute.

Tracy Recine – @tracyrecine
English Teacher
Pascack Valley High School, NJ
CEL Member-at-Large

The Power of Collaboration

As a middle child, some might say that I was born a collaborator.  Certainly I was always the one trying to get everyone to share ideas, listen to one another, and “play nice.”  However, I believe I fully recognized the value of collaboration when I became a teacher.  In my first year, I worked with several veteran teachers when planning my lessons; their years of experience brought a level of expertise to the table that I could not match, but in return, I could offer a fresh perspective and new ideas.  Together, we were definitely more effective than if we had worked in isolation.

Janice Schwarze

Janice Schwarze

Since then I have been fortunate to have been involved in many collaborative efforts – both formal and informal.  As a teacher, I worked with three other classroom teachers to create an interdisciplinary program for freshmen that allowed students to collaborate and see how different disciplines relate to one another.  Of course, as teachers in the program, we collaborated every day to design units that would interest and challenge students, and as a result, we each grew as professionals and added many tools to our toolbox.

Knowing the power of collaboration, when I became department chair, I involved teachers in important decisions in areas such as hiring, curriculum development, and master scheduling.  Each one of my teachers brought a lens to the table that I could not, and together we were a high-functioning department.

Last year, I teamed with another English department chair as well as the science and social studies department chairs at the two high schools in our district to plan an inter-disciplinary approach to the implementation of Common Core State Standards.  We invited teachers from many different departments to unpack the speaking and listening standards and decide how these standards would become a part of everyone’s curriculum.  Together we created common rubrics that are used to assess students’ speaking and listening skills, and teachers across the school collaborate to create lessons that enable students to communicate effectively.  There was buy-in from the teachers because they have had a voice from the beginning of the process, our work is effective because of the many perspectives that were considered when creating documents, and students see the importance of the skills because they are reinforced in ALL classes.  Without a doubt, this was one of my most challenging yet rewarding professional experiences with collaboration, and I encourage you to watch this short video to see for yourself how powerful teamwork can be.

Currently I am experiencing yet another form of collaboration, this time with leaders across the country, as I serve as the CEL Program Chair for its Annual Convention to be held at National Harbor, MD from November 23-25.  Because of my own positive experiences and my desire to empower others to collaborate effectively, the theme of the convention is “Leading in a Collaborative World.”  Speakers such as Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Jim Burke, and Sarah Brown Wessling will share their expertise on literacy instruction as well as their experiences with professional collaboration.

While I am confident that these keynote speakers will be well-received by convention attendees, the heart of any CEL Convention is the breakout sessions.  Therefore, I invite you to submit a proposal for the 2014 CEL Convention.  Proposals are due April 1; you can review the CALL for proposals and access the proposal application.

Whether you present at the convention or not, please mark your calendars to join literacy leaders from across the U.S. and Canada from November 23-25 at the CEL Convention and see firsthand the power of collaboration.  After listening to our keynote speakers, attending our breakout sessions, and engaging in conversations with other attendees during our breakfasts, lunches, and social hours, you are sure to leave the convention with many practical strategies.  Perhaps more importantly, you will become a part of a great community that will continue to support your efforts as a literacy leader long after the convention ends.  I hope to see you in November, and in the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at celconvention2014@gmail.com.

Janice Schwarze
Associate Principal of Curriculum and Instruction
Downers Grove North High School, IL
CEL Program Chair 2014

Energizing Educators #LitLead Chat 3.13.14

Meenoo Rami

Meenoo Rami

On Thursday March 13, at 8:30 PM EST, I will be joining the amazing educators on #LitLead chat to share some thoughts around finding energy in our work. I am humbled by this invitation from Heather Rocco, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with this community after meeting some of them at their annual CEL conference. If you are a literacy leader in your school or in your district, you need to connect with this amazing group to access their expertise and experience.

I have been thinking a great deal about energy and rejuvenation for teachers lately. Personally, this winter has been difficult in Philadelphia and we are all ready for a bit of warmth and sunshine. It has also been dark days for us as educators in Philadelphia for many other reasons, our schools are still under attack even though 23 schools were closed last year. As we try to close the financial gap we currently face in the district, for teachers, it could mean a 13% pay cut while continuing to do more with less resources than ever before.

Philadelphia is not alone in this situation. The story is the same in New YorkKentucky, and Virginia.

No matter what the political climate is like or what the fallout from backdoor deals will be, as educators, we have to go back to schools everyday and meet needs of our student in our care. In these times, how do we find energy and rejuvenation?  In addition to that question, I’d like to consider the following questions as well:

  • What do you do energize yourself?
  • What do you do to energize those around you?
  • What kind of self-care are you giving yourself?
  • What kind of community practices uplift the members in it?
  • How do you cultivate the habit of noticing the tiny moments of joy in your class?
  • Give us your best tip to bring positive energy in the classroom.

I look forward to learning from you and with you in this hour on #litlead, and I hope you’ll be there to share your thoughts. Thanks.

Meenoo Rami
English Educator & Author of Thrive
Science Leadership Academy
Philadelphia, PA
http://meenoorami.org/

Join us…

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

At twenty-eight years old, I was offered the privilege to lead one of the best high school English departments in my state.  I was terrified.  What did I know about leadership?  The answer was pretty simple.  Nothing.  I knew nothing about leadership.  But I knew teaching, and I loved learning. And I did not want to let down my department.  So I worked hard to earn their trust, to advocate for their needs and to provide them opportunities to learn.  Miraculously, this introverted, tentative educator discovered ways to inspire others to dream, learn and become more, and our department thrived.

As a new supervisor, I had many supportive in-district colleagues who guided my decision-making and showed me how to be successful.  However, I also attribute much of my success as a literacy leader to the Conference on English Leadership (CEL).  Introduced to the organization by my former supervisor, Helen Poole, I knew I had found a professional home where I could go and ask the tough questions.  I attended my first CEL Convention in 2003; I have only missed one in the last 11 years.  The conventions bring the brightest literacy educators in our field to share what they know and how to implement it in schools, a crucial component for any supervisor or coach.  These three days have generated more ideas and contacts than any other professional organization in which I have been involved.  If you have never attended a CEL Annual Convention, please mark your calendars for November 23 – 25, 2014 and join us in Washington D.C. where we will discuss “Leading in a Collaborative World.”

However, CEL continues to seek ways to expand its opportunities to support literacy leaders as they work.  Last year, we launched a monthly Twitter chat, #LitLead, which discusses topics of interest to literacy educators on second Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET.  We post on the Connected Community available via the National Council of Teachers of English web page.  And now, we have our blog, which we will invite you to read and comment on each week.  CEL members will post their thoughts, ideas and strategies for leading literacy.  We look forward to the conversations and the community.

For more information about CEL, go to our web page at http://www.ncte.org/cel.  To become a member of CEL, simply subscribe to the English Leadership Quarterly on the NCTE web page.  It costs $25 a year.

Heather Rocco
CEL Sponsorship Coordinator
Supervisor of English Language Arts & Literacy
Chatham, NJ