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