In a major win for union and higher education activists, the Regents in March approved significant changes to fix the state's new teacher certification process, including the elimination of one of four exams and a new review process to help candidates successfully complete the edTPA requirement.
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino thanked the many faculty members and students who spoke passionately on the issue at statewide forums and to all who sent emails to the Regents, calling for the board to follow the edTPA Task Force's recommendations.
Fortino also praised the thoughtful work of the task force that was co-chaired by UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler and included members of UUP, the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY and NYSUT.
For the last three years, union leaders have strongly made the case that the state's teacher certification process is unfair and discourages prospective teachers from entering the profession.
The flawed exams, which the State Education Department introduced in 2014, contributed to a sharp dropoff in the number of college students who want to become teachers. Teacher education program enrollments in New York have declined by more than 40 percent and some students have left the state to become teachers elsewhere.
"Our teacher preparation faculty, their students and many deans of SUNY teacher preparation programs should take heart that three years of effort, of speaking out and of working with a number of concerned Regents paid off," Dangler said. "We went from being told no changes would be made to knowing that our members' efforts made a historic difference to the profession."
The Regents vote sets in motion the following actions:
- immediate elimination of the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST);
setting up a process to review the Educating All Students (EAS) exam and extending the EAS safety net until it is revised;
- establishing a standards-setting panel to determine whether the edTPA passing score should be reset;
- establishing a multiple measures review process for cases where a teacher candidate falls within a specific scoring range on the edTPA;
- extending edTPA safety net pending completion of standards-setting panel work and establishment of the multiple measures review process;
- reviewing edTPA handbooks to determine whether alternative performance assessments are more feasible for certain areas;
- annual release of information revealing the qualifications of edTPA scorers (Pearson test scorers are off-site and do not directly observe student teachers);
- establishing a clinical practice work group to review the length and requirements of student teaching (Student teaching assignments range from 40 days to a year); and
- seeking legislative funding to increase vouchers for student certification exam costs.
When some Regents questioned whether the moves would lower standards, Regent Kathleen Cashin, co-chair of the Higher Education Committee, noted that New York has more certification exams than any other state. In addition, the ALST was harshly criticized as being racially biased, redundant and a poor predictor of who will succeed as a teacher.
Both Cashin and Chancellor Betty Rosa strongly lashed out at critics who claimed the Regents were eliminating literacy requirements or lowering standards. "There's an enormous amount of literacy on the other assessments," Cashin said. "You can't pass the edTPA, CST or EAS if you're not literate. The [edTPA] is like doing a master's thesis!"
Rosa noted the "pushback" came from "people who have no clue" about the content of the flawed ALST, or what New York teachers have to go through to become certified. Rosa said a number of professors with Ph.D.s volunteered to take the ALST and found that many of the questions were convoluted or had multiple correct answers.
Charles Sahm, director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, took an ALST practice exam and agreed. "I found the reading comprehension section to be kind of infuriating," Sahm told reporters. "I only got 21 out of 40 right."
"If it's not a good test, our students shouldn't be subjected to it," Cashin said. "This is a case where we took a careful look and listened to the field ... The best policies come from the bottom up, not top down."