Reading & Literacy

Study on Performance-Based Test for New Teachers Yields Mixed Results

By Stephen Sawchuk — May 31, 2016 3 min read
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Does testing make for better teaching? The first major independent research study on a closely watched licensing test for teachers that measures classroom skills, the edTPA, has some mixed answers to that question.

New teachers who passed the edTPA on their first try tended to boost their students’ reading achievement more than those who didn’t, according to the study, conducted by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, or CALDER.

But passing the exam didn’t seem to bear any relationship to students’ math scores. And it’s less clear whether posting small score improvements on the exam translates into student-learning gains.

“This is a study where middle-ground findings make it harder to interpret,” said Dan Goldhaber, the director of CALDER at the American Institutes for Research.

The edTPA differs from most other licensing tests in that it hinges on a demonstration of classroom instruction, rather than on a stream of multiple-choice questions.

Predictive Validity?

Some 18,000 teacher-candidates took the edTPA in 2014, and 13 states now use or are planning to use the test for licensing, or to gauge the quality of preparation programs.

The CALDER study takes a stab at the important question of “predictive validity"—that is, whether teacher-candidates who achieve a certain score on the edTPA end up helping their students learn more than those who don’t.

The researchers examined scores from some 2,300 Washington state teacher-candidates who took the exam in 2013-14. Then they analyzed the standardized-test performance of students taught by a subset of those teachers, using a “value added” methodology to gauge their impact on student performance. (Candidates did not have to pass in order to teach until January 2014.)

The researchers found a significant association between candidates who achieved the Washington state cutoff score—35 out of a possible 75 for most certification areas—and students’ test scores in reading.

But in math, there was no consistent link between teachers who had passing edTPA scores and students’ test-score gains.

It’s unclear why the link showed up only in reading, said Goldhaber.

“It falls into the realm of speculation, but I think some of what edTPA is picking up is your ability to communicate, either in written form or orally. And those are skills sets that may be more important to teaching reading,” he said.

A Controversial Exam

Proponents of the exam have billed it not just as a way of gauging teacher skills, but as a developmental tool that can help teacher-preparation programs improve their curriculum. To investigate that potential, the researchers also looked at whether students did better as candidates’ scores improved.

But the study found that the results were mixed in this connection, too. There was no association between edTPA score distribution and students’ reading scores. In math, there was only modest evidence that a higher score consistently meant more effective teaching.

The findings are likely to be closely analyzed, in part because the exam has proved to be controversial.

Although it was designed by Linda Darling-Hammond—one of the country’s most influential teacher-educators—and her team at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, or SCALE, some teacher-educators say the edTPA diminishes their own responsibility to determine when someone is ready to teach. Others question whether the exam is vulnerable to cheating, or at $300 a pop, too expensive.

Ray Pecheone, the executive director of SCALE, noted that value-added estimates can be unstable. But he praised the study overall.

“I find the results, while mixed, encouraging,” he said.

Pecheone added that he would like to see future research look at the link between edTPA scores and teachers’ evaluations and to track results over time.

“The first year of teaching is really a struggle for most teachers, ... and it takes certainly more than a year for them to really show powerful results, so I’d love to see this study continued over multiple years,” he said.

Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the June 01, 2016 edition of Education Week as Study on Teacher Test Finds Mixed Results

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