April 2014
March 31, 2014

Future teachers endure undeserved stress as rushed edTPA deadline approaches

Author: By Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
LaGrange Middle School student teacher Courtney Green is a master’s degree candidate at SUNY New Paltz.
Caption: LaGrange Middle School student teacher Courtney Green is a master's degree candidate at SUNY New Paltz. Photo by Katherine Van Acker.

Professor Nelly Tournaki's students at City University of New York's College of Staten Island are so stressed by preparations for the edTPA — short for Educative Teacher Performance Assessment — that Tournaki has the future teachers start her class with a few minutes of relaxation exercises.

At the State University of New York College at Brockport's teacher preparation program, so few students could upload their edTPA classroom videos during the national pilot last year the college bought 120 video camera kits to make uploading easier.

Brockport education professor Christine Murray said faculty and campus IT staff know that if they don't help this year's group of graduating student teachers prepare for a test that's not even part of the curriculum, no one will.

"We're not used to being involved in New York state teacher certification exams; it's always been separate," an exasperated Murray said. She is frustrated and outraged that faculty have become de facto instructors of edTPA — thereby doing work that the State Education Department should be doing — and that preparation for the mandated edTPA has worked its way into a curriculum that used to be reserved for helping students perfect their skills as teachers.

New York City teacher Erin Sullivan is struggling to fit the many detailed steps of edTPA into her hectic teaching schedule. The NYSUT member and former paraprofessional, who was hired on the condition she complete her master's degree in two years, and who has been rated as highly effective, must scramble to complete the same certification assessment as undergraduates. She could lose her job if she fails.

"I'm back to square one. It's do or die for these tests," Sullivan said.

Outrage and uncertainty have marked edTPA preparations throughout SUNY and CUNY, as the first large group of student teachers begin to file their high-stakes edTPA assessment portfolios with the educational testing corporation Pearson. (While some students who did their student teaching in the fall completed edTPA then, the majority of candidates will complete it this month.)

"Students are responding with a great deal of anxiety and frustration," said Julie Gorlewski, an assistant professor at SUNY New Paltz. "It takes energy that could be spent developing a relationship with their students and creating their identities as educators."

NYSUT and its two largest higher education affiliates — United University Professions at SUNY and the Professonal Staff Congress at CUNY — are sharply criticizing the State Education Department's rushed implementation of edTPA.

UUP is calling for the immediate suspension of edTPA as a certification mandate and vehemently refutes SED's claims that the state's teacher education programs at colleges and universities had "ample time" to prepare students for the edTPA. UUP has widely distributed to state lawmakers and media a four-page fact sheet that makes a clear case: Faculty and future teachers were blindsided by the high-stakes test that came with little warning but with plenty of confusion and still-unanswered questions.

Among the problems with edTPA that NYSUT, UUP and the PSC have identified:

  • Preparation for the assessment was imposed on student teaching courses with no regard for the traditional role of faculty governance in curriculum decisions;
  • Last year's pilots of edTPA were riddled with technical problems and confusion over the rubrics provided by the testing company Pearson, which SED has yet to address;
  • There is no evidence that edTPA predicts teaching ability any better than existing certification requirements;
  • Graduating student teachers are caught in a "bait-and-switch" tactic by the state. They were given one set of certification requirements when they entered teacher preparation programs, and then given a mandatory, high-stakes requirement more than halfway through their programs. The edTPA should have been phased in for students just entering teacher preparation programs.

NYSUT is asking Education Commissioner John King Jr. to withhold publishing the test data for the 2013-15 academic years on the state's institutional profiles, the public "report cards" for schools, colleges and universities that list such things as test scores and job placement rates. And NYSUT is working with UUP and the PSC in an all-out effort to tell parents, legislators and the Board of Regents what's wrong with edTPA.

Their public awareness campaign — "Stand Up for Future Teachers" — invites future teachers and their supporters to write to King and the Regents and share their personal stories about what's wrong with edTPA.

"Just like the Common Core, the rollout of edTPA is rushed and incomplete," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said. "And edTPA has been imposed on programs, even though certification has always been outside of curriculum."

Over and over, professors say students are obsessing about edTPA to the exclusion of almost every other aspect of their student teaching.

Most students will spend $300 out of pocket for the initial assessment, and subsequent fees of $100 for each section they fail and opt to retake.

David Gerwin, an associate professor at CUNY's Queens College who serves on the NYSUT Teacher/School Leader Preparation Work group that is monitoring edTPA, said he would be very cautious about encouraging a student to cite anything but mainstream research in the written commentaries that students must submit as part of the edTPA.

Student teachers use the commentaries to explain how they prepared and taught a lesson, and they must back their explanations by citing published research. Commentaries can be 40 to 90 pages long, Gerwin said, and may be the longest and most critical piece of writing the students will ever have done in college — under the greatest time pressure imaginable.

First, though, they have to find a classroom placement so they can do their student teaching, and that's no longer easy.

"Not many teachers want to accept student teachers right now, because of APPR; and teachers are under a lot of strain," said Courtney Green, a candidate for her master's degree at SUNY New Paltz.

"That's one of the things that edTPA doesn't take into account — that this is real life, and it takes a little while to get to know your students."

Student teacher Stephanie Walcott, who will graduate from the College of Staten Island this spring, also found the timing of edTPA with a spring student teaching placement stressful.

"I haven't even started it," she said in mid-March, a month before the assessment was due.

The students in her English language arts class had been doing segments in poetry and playwriting when she started her placement, but she could not focus on edTPA when she was only days into her student teaching. Now, her class is preparing for the state ELA assessment, and Walcott is frustrated that her edTPA video will be done during test preparation.

"The edTPA wants you to plan this very intricate, balanced lesson," she said. "How do you make test preparation interesting?"

WHAT IS edTPA

The Educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, was developed by Stanford University's Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE), a nationally respected research center that focuses on teaching and learning.

  • The three-part edTPA scores student teachers on planning, teaching a lesson and evaluating student learning. New York has added a fourth task in mathematics for future elementary education teachers.
  • The brand name "edTPA" dates to 2011, when the Pearson educational testing corporation took over distribution and scoring.
  • The New York State Education Department adopted edTPA in 2012 and participated in national pilots in 2013. New York requires edTPA for certification beginning in May.
  • Student teachers must also write a 40- to 90-page commentary that uses published research to analyze their lesson and their students' reactions. Student teachers must also submit unedited videos of their live teaching lessons.
  • States can decide their own passing score. In New York, certification hinges on a passing score of 41 out of 75. Based on the passing score set by SED, the test developers project more than a third of student teachers will fail.
  • Reported problems include vague instructions and lack of technical support by Pearson; difficulty fitting edTPA into seven-week student teaching assignments; and college faculty becoming de facto edTPA tutors in the absence of other support for student teachers.