Teacher Preparation

edTPA Encourages Reflection, But Disrupts ‘Natural Learning Process,’ Teachers Say

By Sarah Schwartz — September 06, 2018 4 min read
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Since its inception, the performance-based licensing test edTPA has stirred a lot of controversy.

Supporters say that the assessment offers a high, nationally recognized standard, while critics argue that it forces colleges of teacher education to teach to the test and that it doesn’t allow for evaluators to consider the specific local contexts in which teachers work.

Developed by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity in 2009, the assessment requires students to submit a portfolio of materials for review, including a series of lesson plans, a video of themselves teaching, and written analysis of their instructional practice.

A new study provides some more insight into teacher-candidates’ perspectives on the process: While some said the process helped them reflect on their practice and create effective assessments, others said that edTPA didn’t help them grow at all as educators.

The study, published in the journal of Urban Education, surveyed 177 teacher-candidates at an unnamed urban university in the Midwest over three semesters when the institution used edTPA. During two of these three semesters, the assessment was a requirement for state certification. The university emphasizes social justice and equity as part of its curriculum, and 70 percent of the teacher-candidates were student-teaching in urban classrooms.

Alison Dover, an associate professor in the Department of Secondary Education at California State University, Fullerton, and the study’s author, surveyed candidates about their experiences with the program after students submitted their final portfolios but before they received their evaluation results.

When asked in an open-ended question how edTPA helped them learn or grow, about a third of participants said that it gave them the opportunity to reflect on their practice—a component of teaching that almost all participants said was important to them.

Other students said it supported their development of organization and time-management skills, while 14 percent said it helped them learn to prepare assessments and analyze student data.

Assessment Is Repetitive and Misaligned, Students Say

But many students surveyed said they didn’t think the assessment would help them become better teachers. In response to the question about how edTPA helped them grow, 40 percent of the teacher-candidates either explicitly said that they couldn’t identify any value in the process or left the question blank. (Findings on the test’s reliability at predicting good teaching are mixed. A 2016 study from the American Institutes of Research found that the students of teachers who passed edTPA on their first try scored higher in reading than students whose teachers didn’t. But passing the test didn’t have any effect on students’ math scores.)

“Trying to satisfy all of the instruction rubrics’ requirements forced me to (unsuccessfully) coerce steps in the natural learning process,” wrote one of the participants. The assessment requires teachers to record themselves conducting one of the lessons that they submit as part of their portfolio. To demonstrate all of the skills edTPA requires demonstrated in the video, this participant wrote that they had to artificially speed up the pace of the lesson, “prematurely assigning group work” and “using ineffective written assessments.”

About one-fifth of students also said that the test was repetitive. In open-ended responses, students wrote that they felt they were asked to justify and analyze the same parts of their lesson over and over, without moving onto broader instructional applications, said Dover.

And while about 90 percent of candidates said using culturally responsive pedagogy was an important part of their teaching practice, only 47 percent said that edTPA prepared them to use it. “My program focused on cultural/social justice issues, but that did not help much when it came down to writing commentaries for the [edTPA],” one participant wrote, referring to the section of the assessment that requires written self-analysis of the teacher’s lesson planning and practice.

See also: Teacher Education Leader Francisco Rios: edTPA Leads Schools to Teach to the Test (Opinion)

For many of these teachers, it felt as though edTPA “took over” their student-teaching, said Dover. Instead of focusing on how to address the context and needs of the students in the classroom, they were focused on meeting edTPA deadlines, she said.

Even though many of the teachers surveyed didn’t think edTPA helped them grow as educators, one teacher found a silver lining, saying the exam would be good practice for “the anything-but-intuitive paperwork many of them will have to fill out for the various forms of bureaucracy that teachers encounter.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Alison Dover’s position. She is an associate professor.

Photo: Jaclyn Midgette helps Trell Chalmers, 10, with his homework while others play at recess. Midgette, a 4th grade reading and social studies teacher at Bullock Elementary School in Sanford, N.C., was part of the pilot group who took the edTPA, a performance-based licensure test, when she was in school at East Carolina University. —Justin Cook for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.