January 2017 Issue - New York State Certification
February 01, 2017

Changes on horizon for teacher certification exams

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
UUP VP for Academics Jamie Dangler, right, discusses teacher certification changes with Regents. She co-chaired a task force with SUNY Central's David Cantaffa, left. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
Caption: UUP VP for Academics Jamie Dangler, right, discusses teacher certification changes with Regents. She co-chaired a task force with SUNY Central's David Cantaffa, left. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Amid serious concerns that the state's new teacher certification process is unfair and discouraging prospective teachers from entering the profession, the Regents are considering several changes that will make the process more flexible and less costly.

Regent Kathleen Cashin, co-chair of the Higher Education Committee, said it's time for the Regents Board to acknowledge it made a mistake in 2014 when the revamped certification process was rushed through.

"Owning it is the first thing we have to do, and then fixing it is the second," Cashin said at the January meeting. "New York State has more (certification) exams than any state in the nation."

The Regents committee responded favorably to a series of recommendations from a special task force co-chaired by Jamie Dangler, vice president for academics at United University Professions, representing SUNY faculty, and David Cantaffa from SUNY Central Administration.

Dangler said the recommendations would help attract more students to teacher education programs, which have experienced a dramatic decline in enrollments.

The 35-member task force included educators who teach in the State University and City University systems, private colleges, as well as K–12 school districts.

The recommendations call for:

  • reducing the high-stakes nature of the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) by recalibrating passing scores and phasing them in;
  • establishing new parameters for faculty to recommend teacher candidates for initial certification based on other measures of readiness to teach if a student fails the edTPA within a narrow band of the cut score;
  • considering alternative performance assessments for some teaching specialty areas;
  • more transparency about scorer qualifications (Pearson test scorers are off-site and do not directly observe student teachers);
  • convening a clinical practice workgroup to review the length and content of student teaching experiences. Student teaching assignments range from 40 days to a full year;
  • increasing vouchers for certification exam fees and eliminating additional fees when multiple content tests are needed for dual certification;
  • eliminating the problematic Academic and Literacy Skills Test (ALST) that is considered duplicative of other measures that already assess a candidate's reading and writing skills; and
  • re-examining the content and quality of the Educating All Students (EAS) test.

When a couple of the Regents questioned whether recalibrating passing scores could be seen as lowering the standards, Cashin said New York's cut score is the highest in the nation.
"It's very important to acknowledge there are shortcomings with the exams," Dangler said. "Flawed exams do not equate with high standards."

Regent Roger Tilles praised the idea of phasing in new passing scores, as well as using multiple measures if a student just misses the target. "We should do the same on a regular basis for our Regents exams," he said.

Chancellor Betty Rosa said it is crucial to measure prospective teachers by more than just a single test score. Finding "the very, very best is a complicated endeavor ... it isn't about one moment in time and a test score," Rosa said, noting many students and faculty members testified at public hearings about exceptional teaching candidates who just missed the testing mark, or who had trouble completing the edTPA during a brief student teaching experience.

"That alerted us to the fact we had to take stock and take a closer look," Rosa said. "Maybe it's a question of validity. Do we blame the people or blame the instrument?"

NYSUT strongly supports the task force's findings and the idea of using multiple measures to judge teacher candidates. "The task force recommendations strike the right balance," said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino.

"If the Regents adopt them — and we urge them to do that— the new requirements will help to ensure that aspiring teachers know their subject area and how to teach it, which is essential to be successful in our profession. At the same time, it reduces some of the costs associated with the tests and eliminates an unnecessary and duplicative exam."

The Regents will vote on the proposed changes at a future meeting; a public comment period will follow.

TAKE ACTION!

Tell State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and members of the Board of Regents to support the edTPA Task Force's proposals to fix the teacher certification exams and process mandated in 2014.

Tell them the current system is unfair and that the task force's final recommendations, reached after months of collaboration and compromise, reflect a commitment to high, equitable and reasonable standards for entry into the teaching profession.

Email now, because the Board of Regents may take action on the issue at its Feb. 13–14 meeting.

Contact your district Regent, all four at-large Regents, and the commissioner and urge them to fix the flawed system that is discouraging prospective teachers from entering the profession.

For a list of their emails, go to www.nysut.org/edTPA.

SED's summary of the edTPA Task Force recommendations is posted at www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/117hed2.pdf.