If members of the revived statewide task force on the edTPA have their way, the controversial assessment may be just one of several options available to grade a student teacher's competence in the classroom. NYSUT higher education leaders and teacher education practitioners are among the appointees to the reconvened task force, which began meeting again this summer after being dormant for 18 months. This time, members feel the task force stands to make a difference.
"We are always willing to work with SED to ensure that new teachers are well prepared for the realities of the classroom. We want them to succeed," said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees higher education policy for the union. "We have never disputed that assessments are a part of the certification process. But we do expect to have a voice in deciding how best to do those assessments, and we are pleased the revived task force is acting as that voice."
Jamie Dangler, vice president for academics from United University Professions at SUNY, and Michael Fabricant, first vice president from the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, are among the appointees to the panel. Both say the turnaround in the task force's scope and sense of mission is notable.
"We were outright censored under former State Education Commissioner John King Jr.," said Dangler. "We weren't allowed to make policy suggestions; we were compelled to work from the assumption that the edTPA would be the only assessment for classroom performance."
Fabricant said the work of the revived task force is energized.
"Some of this has to do with new leadership on the Board of Regents and their willingness to listen — to those who do the teaching — on what it takes to build a better teaching force," he said.
Regents last spring ordered SED to revive the task force. Several on the board expressed frustration that even though they had established so-called "safety nets" — alternative tests or demonstrations of competency for students who fail an exam — students and practitioners were still publicly criticizing the exams for their poor design and often incomprehensible questions.
Now, NYSUT members on the task force are trying to help develop the best possible solutions, with the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, topping the list of priorities for action. It was introduced almost three years ago as the state's only classroom performance assessment, but the outcry against it has been so strong that students have been allowed for more than two years to substitute an older test if they fail their first attempt at the edTPA.
Possible task force recommendations include allowing institutions and programs to select other performance assessment options.
"There's encouragement to be generative in thinking through the kinds of teacher performance assessments that make sense, as we evaluate their weaknesses and strengths," Fabricant said. The state edTPA Task Force has recommended that one of the certification exams, the highly flawed Academic Literacy Skills Test, be immediately removed. The Regents are expected to consider this request this fall.
"We need members to continue to communicate with UUP and directly to the Regents," Dangler said. "Some Regents and SED officials appear to equate the current teacher certification exams with high standards. Flawed exams do not equal standards. All they do is ... discourage students from entering the teaching profession in New York State. Our members need to help policymakers understand how flawed some of these exams are."