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November 1, 2014
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New state teacher certification requirements create concern

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  Photo Illustration by Corey Hess

The rapid implementation of a new set of teacher certification requirements in New York state has education students, particularly college seniors, under stress and apprehension.

Two years ago, New York became the second state to require college students majoring in education to pass the Teacher Performance Assessment, also called edTPA, in order to be certified to teach in the state. In September 2013, the assessment materials, including an approximately 80-page rubric detailing the tasks, were available to students and faculty.

Two months later, the Board of Regents announced the scores needed to pass edTPA certification and predicted a failure rate of 40 percent based on the cut scores and pilot exams. Now, in May 2014, senior education majors across New York are hoping to fall into the other 60 percent in order to get their certification. This new assessment comes in addition to completing remaining requirements within their college or university’s respective education curricula.

EdTPA, administered by the for-profit corporation Pearson Education, requires students to create an extensive portfolio of documentation from their seven-week student teaching stints. The three main components to the test, which costs $300 to submit to Pearson, are planning, video instructional and comprehensive assessment tasks.

Brandon Pinette, corporate affairs contact for Pearson, said the company is an administrative partner responsible for the distribution and collection of test materials, as well as Web-based resources for candidates and scorers.

Jeane Copenhaver-Johnson, chair of the Department of Education at Ithaca College, said the vocabulary particular to the assessment rubrics are as new to students as they are to faculty.

“If we had known about this, say, five years ago, we could’ve been educating teacher candidates in what I call edTPA speak,” she said. “So we’re integrating that further down in the curriculum, but what we have right now are teacher candidates who were most of the way through their program when this requirement came out.”

The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity developed the edTPA in May 2010 in order to test teacher effectiveness through a multiple-measure assessment system.

Dr. John B. King, Jr., New York state education commissioner, said in a press release Nov. 22, 2013, “The edTPA is designed to measure a candidate’s readiness to teach by assessing critical teaching practices designed to foster student learning — practices like the ability to demonstrate effective planning, instruction and assessment.”

Music education major Anthony Deluca has completed his student teaching, but he has yet to write the reflections on his work, which constitute a significant portion of the rubric, he said.

“It’s a little daunting, to say the least, especially because we’re the first year to really do it,” he said.

Deluca said he had large classes of about 75 to 80 students at Mynderse Academy in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and he had to collect evidence of student feedback from all of them. The entire process, he said, is an inconvenience to the teachers hosting the candidates.

“You’re a student teacher in someone else’s world that’s trying to get a concert ready, so you’re already slowing them down, and then you have to do the edTPA,” he said.

Anna Luisi ’08, vocal music director at Mynderse Academy, said she did not have to gather written proof of assessment when she student taught in 2007. In a music class, she said, assessment occurs through performance in a group setting on a constant basis, not through write-ups on an individual basis.

“When Anthony had to give students a written assessment, that did take up some class time that would normally be spent making music,” she said. “I don’t think that there is anything wrong with having to give written assessments in a performing ensemble class, provided that the assessment is there to reinforce student learning and not just be a test for the sake of giving more tests.”

United University Professions, a higher education union in New York, is forward in its opposition to the edTPA. Jamie Dangler, vice president for academics of UUP, said there has not been clear direction for faculty to understand the criteria for how students can pass the edTPA, which is why the implementation is happening too quickly.

“New York state has distinguished itself as the state that is moving forward with edTPA in the most unreasonable way in terms of making it a requirement for certification,” she said.

The video component of the edTPA requires candidates to upload two unedited 10-minute videos of live lessons in the classroom. Dangler said this presents privacy issues for the students, who are minors and have to obtain parent permission to be filmed.

Other technical details that have not been planned out, Dangler said, include how to deal with the failure rates. She said there is no clear process in place ensuring that students can retake the test, because if a student graduates without having passed the certification, he or she is responsible for student teaching at a school that would allow them to complete the rubric requirements again.

“To fail your certification is serious enough, but the edTPA doesn’t even provide them with realistic ways of them redoing that,” she said.

Melissa Howard, senior education major at SUNY Cortland, has been circulating a petition online urging the State Education Department to suspend the implementation of edTPA until more details of the system have been fully worked out. The petition cites issues with the language of the rubric, the video portion and the fact that the test is administered by Pearson.

“Basically, a textbook company is deciding if we get to become teachers, which I think is not really fair,” she said. “I think it’s another way for them to make money off of public education as a private company.”

Pinette confirmed that Pearson provides an edTPA scoring platform and recruits the scorers.

Two thousand one hundred and seven people have signed Howard’s petition to date. In addition, Howard said she sent letters, which outline in more detail the issues listed in the petition, to all the members of the state education committee but did not receive any responses.

In a similar effort, senior Tom Pinto from SUNY Brockport wrote a letter to his university’s student newspaper, The Stylus, urging readers to call Assembly and Senate representatives with the plea to delay the implementation of the edTPA.

He said the primary factor about which he is most nervous is the 40 percent failure rate purported by SED.

“I love teaching, and I’m afraid I’m never gonna be able to do so,” Pinto said.

A senior Ithaca College student in the music education program, who wished to remain anonymous, has expressed similar concerns, saying she has yet to submit her portfolio. As a music teacher candidate, she said the proof of assessment is trickier in the arts because the edTPA generalizes all education standards in terms likened to math and English Language Arts. She said she believes the goal of the test — to professionalize teachers — is valid, but there are still too many kinks to work out, including the seniors’ lack of time to prepare.

“If my four years had guided me to this point, I think I would have felt more prepared,” she said. “I think I just got really unlucky.”

Four years is the minimum amount of time that would be needed to adapt the music education curriculum to fully implement the edTPA, should any major changes be deemed necessary, Keith Kaiser, music education chair, said.

Both the music education and general education departments do not require that students submit their portfolios to Pearson in order to graduate, but they do require completion of the portfolio to be reviewed by college faculty.

“While some have found it very trying, others have stated that while it was a lot of work, they felt well-prepared by our current curriculum and edTPA preparation to take on this new task,” Kaiser said.

To compensate for the late arrival of edTPA materials, Kaiser said the college has provided workshops, individual mentors and edTPA coordinators to educate the students, faculty and other stakeholders.

Pinto said he thinks the magnitude of the requirements may turn students away from taking the assessment, so they would resort to teaching in other states where edTPA is not required for certification.

“I love New York — I want to teach in New York all my life,” he said. “But just looking at the edTPA things that we have to do, just looking at the tasks that we have to submit, I don’t know if I can pass it.”