Teacher Preparation Opinion

Teacher Education Leader Francisco Rios: edTPA Leads Schools to Teach to the Test

By Anthony Cody — May 26, 2014 6 min read
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Yesterday I began a series of interviews with leaders of schools of education. As I noted, these schools have been targeted by those seeking to “disrupt” and “reform” our educational system. Yesterday we met Kevin Kumashiro of the University of San Francisco. Today, we hear from Francisco Rios of Western Washington University, in Bellingham, Washington.

1. Can you tell me a bit about how your school approaches teacher education?

I am the Dean of the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University.

Our teacher education programs have a strong focus on issues of social justice, particularly connected to diversity, inclusion, and equity concerns. We add to this some essential understandings around teaching and learning. In addition, our programs have a strong focus on building a strong set of essential teaching skills mixed with a strong preparation in the academic disciplines, with a special emphasis on math and science. The program has a strong field based dimension, including early field experiences (via service learning) in schools, field experiences connected with methods courses, and nearly double the hours student teaching than are required for state certification.

2. How does this relate to how you expect the teachers your program graduates to engage in the work of teaching?

This is exactly how we would expect our teachers to engage in their work as teachers. We need them to have strong academic content knowledge mixed with strong pedagogical content knowledge. We need them to be strong teachers in as the essential dimensions of teaching and learning, from planning, to instruction, to curriculum, and to assessment. We need teachers who recognize that educational inequalities are the most pressing matters facing public education and they need to be keenly aware of their role in addressing those inequalities. And we need to assure our students are given the opportunity to work with professionals in the field as they begin on the road to a career in teaching.

We are also pushing our students to recognize their role as partners with parents and stewards of communities. Toward that end we are taking an ecological view of teaching and learning such that the students understand their role in caring for and meeting the needs of all students.

3. What are some of the pressures your school of education faces in this data-driven paradigm we are in?

The pressures are many. We are keenly aware of the overall criticism of teacher education (generally) that have followed from a national narrative critical of public education. We are facing a decision with regard to the new national standards on teacher education developed by the Council for the Accreditation of Education Programs (CAEP) with its focus on value added measures of the impact of our candidates, as student teachers, on the learning of students in classes. We have had to make purposeful adjustments to our own teaching around the high stakes (in our state) Teacher Performance Assessment. The state seems to continue to require additional content be added to our teacher education curriculum (for example, information about new teacher assessment models) while at the same time asking that we reduce time to degree. Data reporting requirements are continuing to increase with additional data being added yearly. In my opinion, at the heart of this is a distrust that faculty in colleges of education and their public school partners who host our students are capable of producing quality teachers for the nation’s schools.

4. What do you think of the NCTQ’s project to rate schools of education?

We didn’t put much stake in the NCTQ ratings. We recognize the sponsoring group as politically biased. We recognized the poor design of their assessment, working primarily with course syllabi to make determinations about quality of our academic experience for future teachers. We participated as minimally as we were required. We were not surprised that they ignored information in the data that we did provide. And we paid little attention to the ratings that the college received.

5. How has the Pearson edTPA exam affected your program and your students?

Like what occurred when high stakes testing was brought to K-12 schools, we too began to move in ways that focused on teaching to the test, in this instance the edTPA. We have focused much of our professional development for faculty on the assessment. At least one course has a nearly complete focus on the edTPA. We have changed content in nearly all courses to make links to the edTPA when they are evident. Our students’ anxiety level within the program has been heightened because of the edTPA, both as a high stakes performance measure but also as a significant financial cost. I worry (and have evidence) that some students--despite the focus on equity, inclusion, and diversity in our programs--are putting lessons together for the edTPA that don’t address these for fear of offending potential anonymous reviewers. So students are opting for “safe” lessons and not anything that might even be remotely controversial.

6. There is a growing trend of alternative avenues to teacher credentials. There are even charter schools beginning to host their own programs, and even offer Master degrees. What do you think of this?

The most frustrating aspect of these new faster, easier but not always cheaper approaches to teacher education is that they seem to be freed from many of the regulations that are now being required of traditional teacher education programs in colleges of education. From my perspective, this deregulation is just one aspect of an overall attempt to privatize teacher education, a trend that’s been occurring in K-12 schooling for over two decades. Ultimately, it represents a view of teaching as a technical act and away from thinking about teaching as a professional practice.

7. Are there signs that schools of education are beginning to push back against these changes?

I’m impressed by some of the resistance that is evident to the educational reforms in K-12 schools. As just a few examples are the United Opt Out National group which encourages parents to opt out of their children taking standardized assessments; the teachers for social justice groups that have been springing up primarily in major urban centers across the US; and the Network for Public Education which is dedicated to taking back the broad public purposes of education.

While we have yet to see any explicit alliances among colleges of education, I trust it is only a matter of time.

8. The Obama administration through Arne Duncan has proposed holding teacher education programs “accountable” by using VAM scores as one way to rank teacher education programs. What are your thoughts?

This is a major challenge to teacher education. Students are placed in someone else’s classroom, for a short time, while they are still being apprenticed into the profession. The number of variables that will impact student learning that are beyond the control of the student teacher is substantial.

The Department of Education would be wise to take a look at substantial concerns that have been raised by education professionals, most recently the American Statistical Association. For a complete list of articles that raise serious and substantial concerns about value added measure (VAM), see Vamboozled.com

What do you think? Is the edTPA causing schools of education to focus on that test? Is it time for more formal alliances to be built between schools of education related to these issues?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.