In a world where no one seems to agree about anything, I am guessing that almost everyone would agree that good classroom teachers are important. Certainly, in the State of New Jersey, we often see billboards or even public service messaging touting the quality of our public schools. To be sure, great learning communities lead by dedicated and creative teachers should be a point of pride.
However, the State Board of Education is on the verge of disrupting the flow of great teachers into our schools and classrooms. Effective, September, 2017, all candidates seeking certification will be required to jump through a new hoop called the EdTPA. (https://www.edtpa.com/PageView.aspx?f=GEN_NewJersey.html)
The EdTPA is an additional teaching performance assessment. This comes in addition to meeting high standards to get into a teacher education program, having multiple practicum and student teaching experiences, being mentored by both college faculty and in-service professionals, and passing standardized Praxis exams administered by ETS. There are several problems with this new assessment that include pedagogical flaws, additional costs, and the fact that it is creating a cottage industry that opens the door to cheating if you have the cash to pay.
Even in New Jersey where many of our school districts are performing well, we must admit that we also have many historically underperforming districts. Students and families in those under resourced areas cannot afford to lose the opportunity for strong teachers. However, there is evidence to suggest that teacher candidates who are placed in “urban” (low resource, non-White) classrooms score lower on the EdTPA. This reality is troubling as teacher candidates may stop choosing high needs placements for fear of unfair scoring. This may disrupt the pipeline of qualified teachers to our most vulnerable children.
Also, as any in-service teacher can tell you, more learning happens during practicum and student teaching experiences than at any other time. Those are the moments where something you learned in your college class either confirms or clashes with the reality of facing 25 little faces. In those moments the teacher candidate, mentor teachers, college faculty, students, and parents form a community that helps grow the next generation of teacher. These authentic experiences are transformative as they require teacher candidates to demonstrate how to support children in real classrooms. Instead, the EdTPA will now measure of candidates’ ability to follow directions and write narratives than their readiness to teach (e.g., Berlak 2010; Madeloni and Gorlewski 2013).
But wait, it gets better, it comes at a price. The EdTPA, administred by Pearson, will cost each teacher candidate $300. This fee will come in addition to typical tuition costs, Praxis exams, and State certification fees. When it is all said and done the typical teacher candidate will pay more than $1000 in fees in order to be licensed. And, if you are lucky enough to have even more extra cash, the dawn of the EdTPA has spurred a cottage industry of people who will do it for you. These services cost anywhere from $500 to $1000 and will guarantee a passing score.
I will leave it for you to decide – will adding another high cost, high stakes test to the gauntlet to become a teacher produce better teachers? I can tell you for sure that there is no data to suggest that is true. If you have children in New Jersey public schools, stay informed, use your voice, and look out for the student teachers who will be filming your children as part of their EdTPA assessment.