Warner School Researchers Find Pitfalls in New Teacher Certification Assessment

The first teacher candidates required to pass edTPA (a new teaching performance assessment) for certification in New York and Washington States encountered multiple ambiguities, uncertainties and other obstacles while trying to complete its requirements, two Warner School researchers report.
Kevin MeuwissenThe "tensions" this created for the test takers, combined with "sparse" feedback in the form of purely numerical ratings, undermined the potential benefits of edTPA, providing "little useful information to edTPA takers for improving their practice, Kevin Meuwissen, assistant professor, and Jeffrey Choppin, associate professor, write in a paper published in Education Policy Analysis Archives
In 2013, New York and Washington became the first states to require teacher candidates to pass the edTPA in Jeffrey Choppin  photoorder to be certified. Teacher candidates are required to prepare a portfolio that includes three to five lesson plans, 20 minutes of video-recorded classroom performance, and at least three student assessment samples, all based on their placements in schools as student teachers.
Meuwissen and Choppin interviewed 24 teacher candidates—19 from New York and five from Washington—who completed the edTPA the first year it was required.

The candidates related instances of:
Representation tensions, mainly uncertainties about how to best represent their teaching skills within the assessment format. For example, some test takers noted that "teaching involves more than what edTPA asks us to do, including building relationships with students, which edTPA doesn't extensively take into account," Meuwissen noted.
Support tensions, including confusion among teacher candidates' academic advisors about what the state would or would not allow them to do to help their students complete edTPA's requirements. This was compounded when New York State relaxed its restrictions midway through the first year. The confusion led some teacher candidates to form clandestine support groups to help each other, Meuwissen said.
Agency tensions, including difficulties aligning school curricula and instruction with those required by the edTPA and also resistance from people in the schools where candidates did their student teaching. This sometimes revolved around whether to allow videotaping of students, or how to allow teacher candidates to demonstrate competencies that edTPA weighs in its scoring but depart from common practices in the host school.
Given the high stakes involved (being certified or not), and confronted with obstacles beyond their control, some teacher candidates acknowledged embellishing parts of their portfolios that they struggled to complete according to the edTPA's requirements.
Meuwissen said this is an example of how Campbell's law can come into play when tests like this are laden with such high stakes. (Campbell's law states that the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.)

"One of the dilemmas of the edTPA, where it is required for certification, is that it was designed to support formative assessment goals (as a learning tool) but is being used largely as a summative assessment (or rating mechanism)," Meuwissen noted. "edTPA's role as a summative assessment is plainly obvious to candidates and their teacher education institutions," he added, because of its uses and consequences and the limited feedback they receive. Teacher candidates receive only a numerical grade indicating whether they passed or failed, and teacher education institutions receive an overall pass/fail rate for their candidates.
 edTPA logo
Meuwissen offers these recommendations for policy and practice: 
  1. For states contemplating use of edTPA for teacher licensure: Consider Washington State's implementation model, not New York's. "There was a slower rollout (in Washington), more cooperation and transparency between the state and teacher education institutions, more resources, including time for piloting, and the cut scores started off lower and will move up gradually," Meuwissen said. He added, "Part of the problem with the edTPA in New York is that it's situated within a rhetoric of tightening teacher accountability, which doesn't really inspire people to envision and consider teaching as an essential public good."
  2. For teacher education institutions in states where edTPA is or will soon be required: "Develop strategies for mediating and reducing these tensions as teacher educators work with candidates, and consider how the edTPA's components might be repositioned in programs as worthwhile assessment and learning tools."
(Featured in the Dec. 11, 2015 issue of Research Connections)
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Tags: edTPA, Jeffrey Choppin, Kevin Meuwissen, Research, Teacher Performance Assessment