This 2019-2020 academic year, teacher candidates across Connecticut have begun to take a high-stakes performance test — the edTPA — during their student teaching semester. For at least two years, teacher candidates have worked hard taking classes during their teacher preparation program. They have conducted numerous hours of field work, and have been gaining hands-on experience under the tutelage of experienced teachers. These prospective teachers have often taken out student loans and, in some cases, have accumulated large debt.
Now, for the test, they must also create a unit of instruction, videotape themselves, write a 40-50 page portfolio about their lessons and pay $300 for the experience. They must upload their materials on the web, and send them to the Pearson Corporation, a mega-billion for-profit corporation that hires raters for $75 apiece to evaluate these portfolios.
If the Pearson raters, who have never been in the candidate’s classroom and have never observed them, decide to fail these teacher candidates, they cannot gain teaching licensure in Connecticut. This is regardless of the evaluation those teacher candidates might get from their cooperating teachers and from their college supervisors who visit their classes multiple times and provide them with ongoing feedback. The Pearson rater’s decision also supersedes the grade point average these teacher candidates have attained.
Yes, they can retake some parts or all of the edTPA, but it requires more money and possibly enrolling in another semester of classes.
At a time when enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the country and in Connecticut has declined by more than one third over the past decade, and at a time when the decline of enrollment among students of color is at all-time high, this high-stakes testing presents yet another barrier to prospective teachers.
Surveys of teacher candidates in Connecticut and across the country found that the majority of the students who take the edTPA experience severe stress due to the large amount of work it adds to the already overwhelming work of student teaching. Often, in order to prepare these time-consuming portfolios, teacher candidates have to give up time that they would rather use getting to know their students and their parents or participating in department meetings.
Furthermore, despite the huge amount of work teacher candidates invest in their edTPA portfolio, they end up getting only a number as their grade — something most find meaningless and less then helpful if they are to improve as teachers.
It’s time for the Connecticut State Department of Education and the legislature to abandon this high-stakes test that does more harm than good. Academic research suggests that edTPA lacks validity and reliability, reduces the autonomy of teacher education faculty, narrows the curriculum of teacher preparation as it focuses on test preparation, and provides yet more control over public education by corporations that continue profiting from testing.
Instead, CSDE and the legislature should provide more incentives for students –and especially students of color — to enroll in teacher preparation programs. For example, it could provide debt relief for those who teach in urban and hard-to-staff schools. It could also provide more release time and more professional development for cooperative teachers so they could have more time for and more expertise in mentoring student teachers.
Aram Ayalon is a Professor of Education at Central Connecticut State University. He is also a member of the Connecticut Legislature’s edTPA Working Group..