Teacher testing revised

The state Board of Regents has accepted easier teacher certification requirements to slow an increasing statewide teacher shortage and provide what it says will be a more fair assessment for prospective teachers.

Revisions to the Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, include lowering the passing score for the assessment, introducing measures to boost student-teachers who score just below that cutoff point and eliminating a literary test.

Education students doing student-teaching must complete the three-part edTPA assessment to become certified. They submit lesson plans, videos of them working within a classroom and their feedback on students work to be assessed by employees of Pearson, the company that sells the assessment.

When the edTPA certification was introduced in 2014, New York’s then-commissioner of education, John King Jr., set the state’s passing score for elementary education at 41 out of a possible 75. Nationally, the edTPA cutoff score is suggested to be 40.

A new score cutoff of 38 will be introduced Jan. 1, 2018, and rise by one point every other year to cap off at 40 points by January 2022.

“I think it will be a fairer way of assessing them,” said Jolene DiBrango, vice president of New York State United Teachers, the union for public school faculty. “We are not in the business of watering down our standards at all. This was really a matter of taking a look at an exam and seeing that there were teachers that were right there. They had done all these wonderful things, and we didn’t want just one measure to prohibit them from being in the classroom.”

The Regents agreed with reports they heard from a task force voicing the thoughts of educators and experts in the field that the score was too high, and like a teacher may modify a test’s scoring after seeing the results, it is changing the point cutoff with the goal of giving exam takers a more fair shot.

“The edTPA is still under development; that’s part of the problem,” said Jamie Dangler, co-chair of the edTPA task force and vice president for academics for United University Professions, the state’s main union for college faculty. “It’s not like it’s a finalized performance assessment. It’s being refined.”

Educators believe this change will help New York retain its education graduates. After the 2008 recession took a toll on teachers looking for work in New York, the following years saw a dramatically reduced number of graduating high school students entering college education programs.

Enrollment in teacher education programs dropped by nearly half in 2010, and 10 percent of teacher education graduates found work in other states, according to NYSUT.

“We know we were losing far too many of our teacher graduates to other states,” Dangler said. “They were not even bothering to try to get certified in New York state; they’re leaving the state. And the certification exams were a big part of that.”

With an average teacher age of 48 in New York and the state Teacher’s Retirement System projecting that nearly a third of its 270,000 active members would be eligible to retire in the next five years, there is going to be a need for teachers even greater than today.

One local educator, however, is not convinced the edTPA revisions are enough to convince the next generation to take up teaching.

“I think it’s unlikely to be a strong enough change to influence the decision that 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds are making about going into teaching,” superintendent of Lake Placid schools Roger Catania said. “They are looking, I think, much more broadly at, ‘If I go for a teaching degree, will I have a job when I get out?'”

The Regents board also approved measures to allow would-be teachers who come within two points of a passing score to be considered to have completed the requirements based on other factors including GPA, scoring on two separate certification exams and recommendations from teachers they knew from college or worked alongside while student-teaching.

Hopeful student-teachers only have one chance to take the edTPA exam and receive their certifications. Pearson administers and scores the exams, sending results around the country to be graded. Rather than hinge their teaching careers on a single, faceless score, a panel of two schoolteachers, two principals, two superintendents, two college faculty members and one SED staff member will review the waivers and decide if the applicant still has the skills to qualify.

The Regents agreed to eliminate the Academic Literacy Skills Test, another Pearson exam, after many professionals complained about it and said it is redundant.

“The criticisms from literary specialists and teachers were endless,” Dangler said. “It was a very poorly designed test.”

The assessments in the $100 test were also a part of required coursework.

“I can assure you, literacy is being assessed,” Dangler said.

While many educators have identified what they see as problem areas in edTPA which have been patched up by the Regents board, Catania said the edTPA process is changing how some future educators student-teach. While it is nice to have an assessment of an applicant’s authentic classroom experience, he never gets to see the videos; they are viewed and scored solely by Pearson employees.

“It requires student-teachers to videotape their performance and connect that with the very specific planning and standards and strategy,” Catania said. “What some of the new applicants are telling me is they are so concerned with meeting all of the many, many requirements of the edTPA that much of their student-teaching is dedicated to addressing those requirements rather than responding to the classroom at hand.”

John Endieveri, a seventh- and 12th- grade social studies teacher at Lake Placid Middle/High School, was hired earlier this year after passing the edTPA. He remembers spending 10 hours over two weekends editing his lesson plan drafts to be as spotless as possible. He said there was a small, seven-point window between failing and mastery, leaving very little room between not being allowed to teach in the classroom and being considered to have “mastered” the profession.

With the Regents board attempting to iron out several problems with the edTPA, Catania wonders if the assessment is doing more harm than good.

“We should recognize that the more roadblocks or gates that we put between a young person and their future career, the more likely it is that they may look elsewhere,” Catania said. “I worry that we may be turning away some of our most talented people.”


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