Teacher Preparation

Under Legislative Pressure, N.Y. Delays Licensing-Test Deadline

By Stephen Sawchuk — April 29, 2014 4 min read
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Under pressure from lawmakers, as well as some teacher colleges and the state teachers’ union, New York’s Board of Regents just approved a policy delaying a video-based assessment of practice for new teachers.

It is the second delay for the exam in the Empire State—an action raising questions about whether the state will hold fast to its timelines for several other new content exams rolling out this spring.

Under the new policy, teacher candidates who fulfill all other licensing requirements by July 1, 2015, but fail the edTPA, short for teacher performance assessment, can be granted an initial certificate as long as they pass a writing-skills exam by that date.

Under the old policy, the exam was required for all candidates as of May 1 of this year.

The state assembly is still scheduled to hold a hearing on the edTPA tomorrow, and had been threatening to advance legislation to delay the exam if the education department didn’t move. That bill, introduced in both houses of the state legislature, would prevent the edTPA from being used to deny a license until July 2015.

Too Soon in New York?

Some 30 states have toyed with using the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s to plan a lesson, deliver it, and tailor it to specific groups of students. It’s partly based on a videotape of their teaching. Washington is the only state that currently uses it for licensing.

In New York, pushback centered on a number of themes. Some raised concerns about the exam’s cutoff score, which was expected to fail around 40 percent of elementary-level teachers on their first try. Others criticized to the state’s implementation timeline, saying that this year’s graduating seniors wouldn’t have had enough time to get ready; the test’s developer, Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, recommmends exposing candidates to the format as early as their sophomore year.

Until last week, the state education department had countered those arguments, noting that plans to use a performance-based test had been well underway since 2009. (The state initially began to develop its own exam, and eventually decided to switch to the edTPA in 2012.) The agency had spent some $11.5 million on professional development for teachers’ colleges reaching some 2,500 teacher-educators, it noted, And the Regents had already, in 2012, pushed the original deadline of May 1, 2013, back by a year.

“There’s a great deal of variability in the state of New York in terms of when and how campuses began this work,” Stephanie Wood-Garnett, the assistant commissioner of teacher and leader effectiveness in the office of higher education, said in an interview last week. “Perhaps what we are seeing with these conversations where there are concerns, these might be campuses in which the faculty did not have the direction as to how to better prepare for this.”

Union Muscle

As it did with respect to common-core implementation, the New York State Union of Teachers put significant political force behind efforts to delay the exam still further. United University Professions, a NYSUT affiliate representing State University of New York faculty, issued a document contending that aspiring teachers might be unfairly barred from the profession by the state’s rushed implementation.

Of interest, the president of NYSUT’s parent union, Randi Weingarten, has publicly advocated for a “bar exam” for teaching, and edTPA has generally been cited as the likely candidate. But the UUP insisted that there had not been enough time for the profession to get ready for such a lift.

New York Commissioner John King referenced the exam in a recent speech he gave calling on teachers, administrators and parents to collaborate in moving forward on such issues as common-core implementation and teacher evaluation.

Conceptual Challenges

The changes aren’t expected to affect that many teacher-candidates. So far, the state education department contends that pass rates from the approximately 1,600 candidates who have submitted their edTPA portfolios and received their scores are approximately 83 percent, far higher than what the original standards-setting projected.

What remains very unclear, though, is what implications this move has for other, less high-profile teaching exams. For example, the new policy doesn’t address several other tests that are also required of all candidates beginning May 1. Those are the Academic Literacy Skills Test, which measures teachers’ ability to read and write in alignment with the Common Core State Standards, and the Educating All Students test, which measures their knowledge and skills with respects to English-language learners and students with disabilities.

In all the drama surrounding the edTPA, no one has really gotten a good sense of how these other exams will go over. The state education department hasn’t released pass rates from early administrations of those exams, and didn’t respond to my queries on the matter.

New York has now delayed common-core implementation and edTPA implementation. So it is worth asking whether opponents of these new policies, emboldened by their success, have yet additional targets in mind.

Correction: An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated the new policy.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.