Teacher Preparation

ETS Wades Into Market for Teacher-Performance Exams

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 25, 2014 3 min read
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As interest in licensing exams that measure prospective teachers’ classroom skills grows, the venerable test-maker ETS is entering the market with a new option for states.

Field-testing began last month for the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service’s new exam, which purports to measure many of the same competencies as the edTPA, a licensing test seven states have recently adopted and many others are considering.

“We’re two years behind the edTPA, so I don’t expect to leap into the market with a 50 percent share off the bat, but there is a lot of interest,” said Seth Weiner, the ETS’ executive director of teacher licensure and certification.

The exam, known as the Praxis Performance Assessment for Teachers, or PPAT, was developed at the same time as a version tailored for Missouri, which plans to begin administering it in the 2014-15 school year. It gauges, broadly speaking, candidates’ ability to plan lessons, gather information on students’ grasp of material, and adapt instruction accordingly.

In one of the major differences with the edTPA, candidates carry out four separately completed tasks over the course of their student teaching.

The first exercise will not be formally scored; mentors will review it and use the results to support prospective teachers’ problem areas. The subsequent three tasks will each make up part of the overall grade, and the final task includes a 15-minute video recording and an analysis of each candidate’s classroom instruction.

ETS officials say the format will help assessment double as a learning tool for candidates, who receive a “professional growth plan” as part of the test.

The edTPA contains several different prompts, too, but they are submitted at once.

The field-testing for the ETS product includes some 250 candidates located in programs in seven states. It’s scheduled for full release in the fall, and at least one other state, Hawaii, has approved it alongside the edTPA as an option.

So far, Missouri offers the most insight into what the test will mean for teacher-preparation programs.

The Show-Me State’s version of the exam, to be used by all 39 institutions preparing teachers, uses Missouri’s teacher-evaluation framework as its basis, so that teachers in training become familiar with the same expectations they’ll face once in the classroom, said Paul Katnik, an assistant commissioner for the office of educator quality at the Missouri education department.

“What we were finding was that there was kind of a gap,” he said. “We’re trying to close that distance between expectations and reality.”

Missouri Model

Missouri also plans to use results from the exam as one of several measures of the quality of its teacher-preparation programs. The state recently took steps to begin auditing its programs every year, rather than every seven years, as is common elsewhere.

The exam’s rollout there begins next fall, but it won’t be complete until 2017. And teacher-educators harbor many of the same concerns that their colleagues have about the edTPA: Will the scoring—to be performed centrally by educators trained by the ETS—truly be valid and reliable? Will its cost, $275 per person, burden candidates? Will districts wary of privacy issues permit teachers to record video in classrooms?

Faculty attitudes will be critical, said Kathryn B. Chval, the associate dean for academic affairs in the education school at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where 30 candidates have taken a pilot version of the test so far.

“An assessment where you can see what [candidates] are saying about how to use technology or differentiate needs, or about diversity, can help you address problems. If it’s used for that kind of purpose, I think it can be very helpful,” Ms. Chval said.

But it will be less helpful, she said, “if faculty approach this as one more thing to check off they’re doing, another hurdle.”

She added: “They see this as high-stakes, and they’re worried about it. It’s an unknown quantity.”

Also unknown is whether the current vogue for performance-based exams will hold up.

“Will the market say this information is so much more valuable that we want to pay three to four times the cost of the typical test, or will they say, ‘We like this, but it’s not worth it?’ ” said George Powell, the ETS’ vice president of teacher licensure and certification.

The ETS, a nonprofit, and the for-profit company Pearson are the two major providers of teacher-licensing exams in the United States. (Pearson administers the scoring of the edTPA by teacher-educators, but the test is owned by Stanford University.)

Prior to the PPAT, the ETS developed performance exams for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It also created the Praxis III, an assessment of first-year teachers, but that exam no longer exists.

A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 2014 edition of Education Week as ETS Wades Into Market for Teacher-Performance Exams

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