Research from The Educational Forum: edTPA and Illusions of Rigor (Part 2)

Today’s bloggerDover_photo_sm is Dr. Alison G. Dover (@AlisonDover1), Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. She writes here in the first of a two-part series to describe research recently published in an article (coauthored by Dr. Dover and Dr. Brian D. Schultz) in The Educational Forum.

Part 2: Narrowing the Definition of “Good Teaching”

In Part 1 of this blog series, I described several examples of policies that reflect a broader context of privatized, profit-driven education reform, in which the rhetoric of rigor, accountability, and choice is being used to systematically destabilize public—and teacher—education. In our recent article in The Educational Forum, coauthor Brian D. Schultz and I examine the impact of one such reform: high-stakes, privately operated teacher performance assessments (TPAs) that shift the responsibility for defining “good teachers” from university-based teacher educators with local, longitudinal, and multifaceted knowledge of candidates and their communities to anonymous, external scorers. Virtually unheard of just 3 years ago, the edTPA (the most widely used TPA nationwide) is now being used to evaluate teacher candidates in 656 educator preparation programs across 36 states. Under edTPA, candidates submit self-curated samples of 3–5 lesson plans, approximately 20 minutes of video, samples of 3 students’ work, and lengthy written narratives to an anonymous online scorer. Scorers—who have been “calibrated” to ensure their numerical scores are standardized according to test developers’ requirements—provide numerical ratings, but no feedback, approximately 1 month later. In states where edTPA is required for licensure, candidates who fail to meet the state-determined cut score are not eligible for a teaching license, regardless of all other evaluations of their readiness.

Our research challenges the nature, structure, and impact of high-stakes TPAs, their scoring, and the growing industry of TPA-related tutoring services. While edTPA’s emphasis on planning, instruction, and assessment may appear to mirror the elements of effective teacher preparation, in practice, its function as a high-stakes assessment undermines its educative value. By design, high-stakes TPAs narrow and standardize the definition of “good teaching,” equate task fidelity with competency, and artificially decontextualize teaching and teacher education. Rather than fostering candidates’ ability to articulate and enact their vision with the support of a team of school- and university-based mentors, TPAs encourage them to adopt an external and reductive construction of effective practice. The system rewards candidates when they teach toward the TPA rubrics, rather than their own conscience.

This carries tremendous risk for our candidates, their future students, and our profession as a whole. What does it mean to be a good teacher? Who should decide? If we are not careful, TPAs will define and delimit this construct on our collective behalf.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Dover and Dr. Schultz’s article free with the education community through February 29, 2016. Read the full article here.

Chicago area teachers, preservice teachers, and teacher educators are invited to continue the conversation about edTPA at DePaul University’s Winter Education Issues Forum: Taking a Critical Look at the edTPA. This year’s forum will be held on February 18, 2016, and is free and open to the public.



One thought on “Research from The Educational Forum: edTPA and Illusions of Rigor (Part 2)

  1. Qualification for licensure to teach is a process of assurance that one is able to achieve the predetermined acceptance criteria of particular attributes that are necessary to carry out a task. To become a qualified teacher, one must demonstrate sufficient evidence of the knowledge, skills, and characteristics of a novice professional. The Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) has established nine standards to identify the knowledge, skills and attributes that are necessary to teach effectively. A strong research base linking the practices to student achievement supports these standards. Each of these nine standards outlines the essential knowledge, performances, and critical dispositions that a teacher needs to exhibit to meet the standard.

    To assist in having their students meet these standards, each teacher education program utilizes curriculum-embedded assessments to support and assess teacher candidate learning, leaving particular high-stakes certification tests up to the state licensing board. In Illinois, teacher candidates are assessed with the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP), content area tests, and the Assessment of Professional Teaching (APT). TAP evaluates each candidate’s basic skills in reading, mathematics, and writing. This is a gateway test for admission into a teacher education program. Content-area tests assess the content area knowledge required for each field or subject, such as elementary education. Teacher candidates must pass this test prior to licensing. APT assesses teacher certification candidates on the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, and the English Language and Technology standards for all teachers. While these tests are important to ensure that candidates meet a minimum knowledge competency level, they are summative in nature and do little to shape or describe a candidate’s teaching performance.

    The American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Stanford University created the Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium (TPAC) to develop edTPA. EdTPA was designed by Stanford University for administration by teacher preparation programs at or near the end of the teacher candidate’s student teaching experience as a requirement for state licensure. Based on elements of the InTASC Portfolio, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) portfolios, and Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT), edTPA measures what candidates actually do in the classroom to help ensure that candidates are prepared to effectively teach all students upon entry into the profession.

    EdTPA is meant to give candidates the opportunity to express how they think like a teacher. It is a high-level assessment of performance and judgment. While the results are predictive of effective teaching and student learning, it is also a process that can be educative. The candidate has the opportunity to participate in a small scale child study, analysis of student learning, analysis of curriculum and teaching, and assessment design and data study. Throughout this process, the candidate is observed and receives feedback from their cooperating teacher and university supervisor. Many candidates also work with another university-based teacher educator who assists them with the process of assembling their portfolio, although the candidate is ultimately responsible for choosing the samples they submit. EdTPA is an evidence-based system that uses multiple sources of data: teacher plans, teacher artifacts, student work samples, video clips of actual teaching, along with personal reflections and commentaries.

    Those “anonymous, external scorers” are university-based teacher educators and capable classroom teachers who work with teacher candidates, usually Nationally Board Certified, in the area they are assessing. In order to become a scorer, one must prove that s/he is affiliated with a school or university and work with teacher candidates as a school-based or university-based teacher educator over the past three years. Only after this proof has been ascertained, does the prospective scorer undertake an approximate 20-hour training program. This program initiates the trainee in how to avoid bias as a scorer, how edTPA is organized, the use of academic language, how to score each of the tasks (planning, teaching, and assessment), how the three tasks relate to each other, how the scoring system works, and how to contact technical support while scoring. After this training is completed, the trainee scores a practice portfolio and participates in a live interactive group session with a seasoned trainer. This gives the prospective scorer a chance to ask questions and discuss any misconceptions they might hold. At this time, if the trainee scores outside of the scoring parameters, they have the chance to repeat the training and score another practice portfolio. If at this time, they still do not score within the parameters, they are disqualified from the opportunity to become scorers. A successful trainee would then follow up with a one-on-one discussion with a trainer to ask any remaining questions they might have. Following this discussion, trainees still have to score two edTPA portfolios within the parameters to qualify to score. Annotated score sheets are available to study after each of these portfolios are completed to deepen the scorers’ understanding. Trainers are available to answer questions during their office hours. Returning scorers must requalify if they have not scored for 120 days.

    The beginning of a new academic year usually brings updates to the Handbook and Scoring Guide (Thinking Behind the Rubrics). The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) and the Americal Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) have been responsive to involved parties who have proffered questions/comments about handbook prompts, rubrics, and directions through the prior year’s submission of portfolios. SCALE provides updates to the Handbooks for teacher candidates and Thinking Behind the Rubrics for scorers each year that are informed by university faculty members that support teacher candidates, scorers and scoring trainers, along with a thorough review of teacher candidate performance data and input from subject‐specific design team members, scorers (via survey and focus group data), benchmarkers, trainers and master coders of scoring training materials. While the rubric constructs remain unchanged, minor changes are made to clarify directions that were not completely understood by candidates and teacher education programs. Scorers are required to study the updates, complete a qualification portfolio, meet with a trainer to discuss the clarifications in order to continue as a scorer. Even qualified scorers are back scored by trainers on a regular basis receiving feedback about one’s work. This regular review helps keep scoring consistent across scorers. Scorers are limited in how many portfolios can be scored in a week’s time, so scorers don’t get tired. Since the scorer has to log in and identify evidence to base the score on, Pearson knows how much or little time one spends on a portfolio. Most portfolios take between two and three hours to score. A sufficient amount of evidence has to be identified for each rubric in order to be able to arrive at a score. The most portfolios that can be scored is six in one week. If it is deemed that a scorer is trying to score too many portfolios, s/he will be locked out of their account. An individual has to care about those prospective teachers to want to participate in scoring. While scorers are compensated for their work, it is not a lucrative occupation.

    The prompts in edTPA all relate to important aspects of the skillset needed for a teacher candidate to be classroom ready. Student teaching is a stage in the development of teacher candidates where they are beginning to transfer the content and pedagogical knowledge they gained in their university coursework to the practice of teaching in the classroom. A reflective stance towards their work can aid this process. EdTPA provides the teacher candidate an opportunity to deeply reflect on their practice while s/he is being supported by their cooperating teacher and university supervisor. While it is an evaluative exercise, it also is educative in the respect that the teacher candidate can make specific theory-practice connections. If the cooperating teacher and the university supervisor work together to support the teacher candidate, edTPA can help them make deliberate connections between the questions they ask themselves and how the answers to these questions can influence the choices they make in the classroom, and how these choices determine the scope of their work.

    It is important for teacher education programs to use actionable data from the edTPA to coordinate with the instructional efforts at any one university to improve programs for teacher candidates. EdTPA allows teacher education programs to help prepare their candidates, not just for local schools, but for any school that the candidate might want to teach in. The premise of edTPA is to identify teacher candidates who are ready to safely practice their craft as beginning professionals. Faculty members must reflect on the data and collaborate to ensure that they are providing student-centered instruction that will allow teacher candidates to gain the necessary pedagogical content knowledge and dispositions to be able to make professional judgments about their work in the classroom.

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