Letters to the Editor 28.1

Does EdTPA Limit Teacher Education?

I believe that academic freedom ends where the health and well-being of my son begins. The state has an ethical and legal responsibility to assess the adults with whom they compel my son to be 180 days each year. I have worked for more than 20 years on developing teacher performance assessments (including precursors of the edTPA), and I believe performance assessments provide a better avenue for states to meet their responsibility to assess teachers prior to entry into the classroom than do paper and pencil tests.

I am not naive. I know there are powerful forces at work to privatize public education. And I live in New York City, where I have seen firsthand the damage done by the inappropriate use of assessments. Thus, I certainly understand concerns expressed about the edTPA in the recent issue of Rethinking Schools.

One of the concerns stated, however – that edTPA limits and harms teacher education programs’ capacity to fully prepare teachers – troubles me. Assessments, by definition, sample from the universe of the domains being assessed. The edTPA does not claim to assess the universe of the complex and integrated set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions required of quality teaching. Nor does it wish to replace all the fine and nuanced opportunities for learning and for assessing candidates’ growth and development that are part and parcel of the many fine teacher preparation programs in this country. It would be a disaster if programs abdicated their ethical and professional responsibility to fully educate prospective teachers. But it would be a disaster based on decisions by those programs, not on the edTPA.

At Bank Street, we know that our candidates must pass the edTPA to receive a state credential. We will do all we can to make certain they pass the assessment. We will not do so, however, by limiting what we do. For instance, we require a full-semester course on observing and recording children. Only a small part of what candidates learn in that course will be sampled on the edTPA, but we are not going to stop requiring the course.

The edTPA does not require us to do less. Using the edTPA to do less would be stepping away from our calling. I urge all teacher educators to trust themselves and their candidates, and continue to do so much more.

Jon Snyder, Dean of the College
Bank Street College of Education
New York City

Wrong Answer to the Wrong Question?

In their article, “Wrong Answer to the Wrong Question: Why We Need Critical Teacher Education, Not Standardization,” Madeloni and Gorlewski raise many important issues. I agree that, as educators, we should continue to question and scrutinize any testing programs or policies that affect teachers and students. The specific issue I would like to address is the reference to edTPA being scored by “an anonymous person hired by Pearson,” by “casual, temporary, outsourced labor.”

I have 12 years of experience teaching middle and high school band courses, more than 16 years of marching band teaching experience, and seven years of experience teaching college music education courses and working with student teachers. I am an edTPA scorer for the performing arts and serve as the national trainer for performing arts scorers.

I have trained all the “anonymous” scorers on the performing arts scoring team. One of my scorers is the coordinator of music education at a liberal arts college in central Ohio and conducts choral ensembles in addition to teaching music education courses. Another recently retired from a college in Minnesota where he taught music education and jazz studies; a third is the coordinator of performing arts education at a liberal arts college in Wisconsin. Also on the performing arts scoring team are a middle school band director from Birmingham, Alabama; a middle school band director from Dayton, Ohio; and a string orchestra teacher from central Virginia. An elementary band director and music teacher from coastal Virginia is, like many of the other scorers, a National Board Certified Teacher. The team also includes theater arts teachers and several retired music educators who are currently adjunct professors working as field supervisors for student teachers.

Because of our training and expertise, we only score performing arts portfolios. Most of the current trainers have been on the team for just over a year and through two rounds of training: one last spring as the first field-testing began, and one this winter when the current edition of the edTPA was published. We are fully aware of the importance of what we are doing and work to ensure that we are doing a good job.

Bill Jobert, Coordinator of Music Education
Wright State University
Dayton, Ohio

EdTPA Exposes Deep Divide

When I began reading the issue of Rethinking Schools devoted to edTPA, I immediately harkened back to a meeting I attended last summer. A representative from SCALE, the Stanford team that developed edTPA, was selling it (figuratively speakingÑit was already bought) to teacher preparation professors. The questions I asked were answered with a series of claims for which I have yet to find a basis. Darling-Hammond and Huyler make the same claims.

My first question was simple: Why do we need to spend a lot of money, preparation, and instructional time to prepare our students for a new assessment? Darling-Hammond and Huyler want to “professionalize” teaching and propose edTPA as the mechanism. Teaching is already a profession. We don’t need to increase our similarities to medicine and law to qualify.

Second: Why should we believe that edTPA will lead to more “effective teaching?” Validation studies of PACT, the precursor to edTPA, show that teachers with higher edTPA scores have higher VAM (value-added measurement) scoresÑtheir students have larger test score increases. But many of us do not define effective teaching in those terms and are still waiting for evidence that edTPA will increase/deepen/strengthen student learning.

Third: Why didn’t anyone ask my opinion or that of my colleagues about edTPA or its implementation? The statement that “more than 30 universities and alternative programs now use the assessment” implies that it has broad backing. Last summer’s speaker gave the same impression with his repeated use of “we.” Many of my colleagues are coping with the mandate to integrate edTPA preparation into their courses only because it is now our state’s certification gate. Don’t confuse compliance with support.

Finally, I questioned Pearson’s involvement. The speaker maintained the position that edTPA will not be influenced by corporate involvement. Why would edTPA be safer than everything else Pearson has touched?

Fortunately, Madeloni and Gorlewski do not share the edTPA developers’ notion that education’s problem is defective teaching, and that a new set of measurable competencies will repair it. They believe that our profession is always a work in progress, constantly in need of expansion, not reduction. They believe effective teaching’s results are as wondrously unpredictable as the students from whom they emerge. The debate here is between two fundamentally different views of teaching and schooling. If edTPA’s limiting perspective wins, everyone loses.

Ruth Powers Silverberg, Associate Professor
School of Education, College of Staten Island, City University of New York

A Call for Collaboration

Pre-K-12 students need teachers who are fully qualified and fully prepared to teach on day one when they enter a classroom. More than 1.6 million new teachers are expected to enter the profession within the next decade, and we must ensure that they are effective practitioners before they are assigned as teachers of record. Preservice classroom-based performance assessments provide opportunities for candidates to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired during the coursework and clinical experiences of their preparation programs. Our students need teaching professionals who know their content and can translate that content into practice that promotes student learning and success. Uniform, classroom-based performance assessments allow candidates, regardless of preparation pathway, to demonstrate that they are indeed profession-ready before they assume full responsibility for students.

Attempts to focus the discussion on academic freedom, scorers, and testing companies shift the conversation away from ensuring that pre-K-12 students across this nation have access to high-quality instruction. Absent a focus on student learning, we will continue to replicate an education system that benefits some but not all learners. If we want to create an education system for the students of the 21st century, we must transform that system, including the teaching profession.

Pre-K-12 schools and classrooms are the learning laboratories for teacher candidates; educators at every level, from pre-K to university, must work together to ensure teacher candidates participate in the rich and rewarding clinical experiences needed to prepare them to serve students. Collaboratively, we must define what effective preservice practice looks like and determine how effective preservice practice should be assessed.

Rethinking Schools has provided a space to begin the conversation, but conversation alone is not sufficient. It is the responsibility of pre-K-16 educators to advance policies that ensure the readiness of the candidates who are entering the profession.

Dennis Van Roekel
President, National Education Association

Math and the Common Core

Over three decades, I have taught math in multiple settings, always advocating for student-centered instruction that empowers young people. As someone who has dedicated her professional life to equity in mathematics, I have some concerns about the portrayal of the Common Core in recent issues of Rethinking Schools (“The Trouble with the Common Core,” summer 2013).

When I began my teaching career, there were no math standards. High school students could take any two math classes to earn a diploma, meaning many graduated without seeing a variable. Tracking was rampant. Walking the halls, one could see the institutional racismÑadvanced courses were comprised primarily of white and Asian students, while remedial courses were a sea of brown and black faces. The situation needed to change.

Reform-minded math teachers celebrated when the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics appeared in 1989. Published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, it served as our call to action, the vision of what mathematics education could be. Unlike the lists of testing topics we now associate with the word “standards,” these were progressive professional guidelines, collaboratively developed by teachers and college math faculty. The focus was equity – high quality mathematics education for everyone.

The critiques began almost immediately: “fuzzy math,” “lacking rigor,” etc. The math wars had ensued, and the battles rage on. At the heart of each new skirmish lie questions about what mathematics is and who should study it.

The ongoing debate has defined the Common Core’s Standards for Mathematical Practice. These standards represent both a refined vision for K-12 mathematics and a math wars peace treaty, an acknowledgement that all students need to do math rather than having math done to them. Math teachers who have refused to change their practice for the sake of their students must be compelled to do so. And, although I adamantly oppose corporate testing, what I have seen thus far from the released math items intrigues me. These are interactive performance tasks that ask students to think and to draw their own conclusions. They demand a different kind of teaching and learning and may even have the potential to nudge our gridlocked system toward the mathematics education our students deserve. I wish the change could come without the test, but after decades of unsuccessful math reform, I fear we need it.

Kasi Allen, Program Director
Graduate School of Education and Counseling, Lewis & Clark College
Portland, Oregon