New York State Certification, Professional Development
October 15, 2015

Regents listening to higher ed leaders on certification

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications
new paltz
Caption: L to R: Thomas Meyer, a UUP member and professor at SUNY New Paltz, Lynn Olsen, NYSUT member, panelist and teacher in Brewster; Christine McCartney, NYSUT member, panelist and teacher in Newburgh. All three participated in a meeting with Regent Kathleen Cashin to discuss problems with the new state teacher certification exams. Photo by Darryl McGrath.

Regent Kathleen Cashin plans to ask the Board of Regents to take corrective action on a specific list of complaints about the state’s new teacher certification process, based on her meetings with NYSUT members.

Cashin co-chairs the Regents’ Committee on Higher Education with Regent Charles Bendit. She has had numerous conversations about the certification process with NYSUT higher education leaders, including leaders from United University Professions and the Professional Staff Congress at the State and City universities of New York.

Her decision to draw up a specific action plan to introduce to the full Board of Regents as soon as possible followed an Oct. 14 panel discussion at SUNY New Paltz, in which teacher preparation faculty and staff from around the state talked about a multitude of problems with all four certification exams.

The plan includes:

1) Seeking a major change to the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, which is supposed to evaluate a future teacher's readiness for the classroom but which is so poorly designed and confusing that teacher preparation faculty point to it as a major reason why enrollment in their programs has declined statewide by 40 percent since the 2008-09 school year.

Ideas for change include removing the edTPA as a high-stakes test required for certification, or to make it a requirement for professional licensure that is not taken until a new teacher has been in the classroom a couple of years. UUP statewide Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler cautioned that the State Education Department is very unlikely to drop it.

“There are huge, powerful forces that want this and want it to stay as it is, and want to shrink teacher preparation programs,” Dangler said.

2) Revising the cost of the exams. Teacher preparation students can spend $900 to $1,200 to take the four exams the first time and additional hefty fees are added on if students need to retake an exam – which is very common – or want to see the scorer’s assessment of a failed exam. Chris Whitaker, the SUNY New Paltz certification advisor in the teacher preparation program, told Cashin that the cost is driving low-income but talented future teachers out of the program.

3) Giving back oversight of curriculum to faculty. Preparation for the new certification exams is driving curriculum decisions to the point where other, necessary instruction is getting short shrift. Cashin, a former K-12 teacher, said she suspected that this reflects the move toward standardized testing and teaching is that is creeping into higher ed from K-12.

“It’s based on a lack of trust and a lack of voice and a lack of respect,” she said.

4) Reviewing all of the new certification exams, not just the edTPA, because teacher preparation faculty and staff have reported problems with all of them. Panelists recounted talented students who could not be certified, in what amounted to years of excellent work dismissed by one anonymous and unaccountable Pearson scorer.

“All the things you’re telling me reinforces how awful this is for our teacher preparation students,” Cashin said.