Georgia will no longer require aspiring teachers to pass the performance-based licensing test edTPA, calling it a barrier to entry.
EdTPA is the first standards-based assessment for teacher-candidates to become nationally available, and is meant to ensure that new teachers are effective from day one. Supporters said it would raise the bar for the teaching profession, but critics have long worried that it has forced colleges of education to teach to the test and has pushed aspiring teachers—especially those from marginalized backgrounds—out of the profession.
In Georgia, edTPA became a requirement for program completion and certification in 2015. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which oversees teacher-preparation programs, unanimously voted Thursday to drop the statewide requirement, although individual programs can still require candidates to take the edTPA. The decision goes into effect on July 1.
“We recognize ... that while we have gained much from edTPA, we, as an agency, need to be as responsive as possible to the expressed needs of schools related to staffing and capacity,” said Matt Arthur, the executive secretary of the commission, in a memo.
And in a statement, Georgia’s State Superintendent of Schools, Richard Woods, praised what he called a “common-sense decision” that will help strengthen the state’s pipeline of teachers.
“Now more than ever, we should be removing barriers that make it harder for qualified individuals to join the teaching profession,” he said. “The COVID-19 crisis has made clearer what many of us already knew: measuring a teacher’s preparation and skill is more complicated than a high-stakes assessment tool can capture. The edTPA assessment served a purpose, but it has become clear over time that it caused unintended barriers and burdens for teachers entering the profession.”
The edTPA costs $300 to take, and many students have had to retake the test multiple times before passing. Candidates must 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.
“At its base, the edTPA essentially asserts that every child deserves a well-trained, highly competent teacher,” said Raymond Pecheone, the executive director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, which developed the assessment in 2009. “That’s always been the mission of the edTPA—to create a system of assessment where regardless of ZIP code, teachers in the state will be held to a common standard.”
Most states have at least one teacher-preparation program that participates in edTPA, and at least 20 states have approved edTPA to count for their program completion and licensure requirement.
Studies have shown that candidates of color are less likely to pass the edTPA than their white peers, prompting concerns that the licensing test is contributing to an already overwhelmingly white profession.
Pecheone said SCALE is working with states to consider an approach to setting standards for licensure that uses multiple measures—a combination on how the candidates perform on the edTPA and how they perform in student-teaching, as determined by their teacher-preparation program. That way, a candidate who doesn’t pass the edTPA but has succeeded in clinical experience could still become a teacher.
Oregon, New York, and Wisconsin already use other data in their licensure decisions, Pecheone said, and California is working on similar processes.
SCALE is currently compiling insights and best practices from universities that have narrowed or closed the gap in pass rates, he said. Those case studies are expected to be released in the fall. Also, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, SCALE has created a library of resources to support both candidates and programs, Pecheone noted.
Even so, the edTPA has been unpopular among teacher educators in Georgia, especially those who work at historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, said Marsha Francis, who works with preservice teachers in the Fulton County school district and is a site visitor for the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. (Francis, who is one of Education Week’s Leaders to Learn From, used to be the edTPA coordinator for Spelman College, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta.)
“You have this asssesment that feels thrust upon the different programs and the candidates, and it’s been used to say XYZ about a school, and they feel as if those scores are maybe not the best picture of the types of candidates they produced,” she said.
Research on whether the test predicts good teaching has been 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. And in a 2018 study that asked teacher-candidates how they perceived the assessment process, some said they thought the test helped them reflect on their practice, develop effective assessments, and analyze student data, while 40 percent said the edTPA didn’t help them grow at all as educators.
Maintaining a High Bar
EdTPA has also been criticized for how the assessments are scored. Recently, a study published in the American Educational Research Journal argued that the results are not always reliable or precise, and can even be “misleading.” (The developers of the exam have disputed the study’s conclusions.)
Francis said she worries that the context of individual schools is lost during scoring, and that the process can lead to biases. “Do we feel comfortable having someone in Idaho judging my teaching in metro Atlanta?” she said.
Pecheone said “to the degree possible,” raters—who are teacher-educators, National Board-certified teachers, and other experienced teachers who have worked with preservice teachers—score portfolios from teacher candidates who are in the same setting as them. (Urban teachers are matched with urban scorers, rural with rural, and suburban with suburban.)
The rigorous implementation of the edTPA has improved teacher quality across the state of Georgia, Pacheone said, and he’s worried that removing this standard could lead to unqualified teachers entering the classroom, which could cause students to fall “significantly behind.”
“I’m concerned that the hard-fought standards for teacher performance and accountability [developed over] the last two decades could be rolled back,” Pacheone said, adding that other professions have rigorous licensing tests.
But Francis said she hopes removing the requirement will send a message to prospective teachers that Georgia is “invested in their success.”
“As a teacher educator, I know the importance of preparing thoughtful, highly competent educators,” she said. “I think that as we continue to work together, we can find ways to ensure that the expectations and standards we have for strong teachers don’t eliminate first-generation college students who choose to be teachers, minority students who choose to be teachers, and students who don’t have the resources to be retaking expensive tests—so that they’re able to go into the classroom because they have gained the knowledge and skills to be effective to meet the needs of kids who look like them.”
Image via Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.