In 2012, the Connecticut State Department of Education, in concert with Connecticut’s superintendents, aired concerns that many graduates of Connecticut’s teacher-preparation programs were not “learner ready,” meaning fully prepared to enter the classroom and assume a viable, comprehensive teaching role. As a result, The Educator Preparation Advisory Council (EPAC) was statutorily created to examine how best to ensure that the state’s teacher-preparation programs were, in fact, producing “learner-ready” new teachers.
EPAC completed its work in 2016. One of the outcomes of their assessment was to require all teacher-preparation programs to use a third-party administrator to oversee the implementation of reliable and valid performance-assessment requirements for teacher licensure in Connecticut. By using a performance assessment that was reliable, focused and scored by a third party, Connecticut taxpayers and superintendents would be more confident that a new teacher, regardless of where he or she was prepared, would be demonstrably ready to enter the classroom upon graduation.
EPAC chose a nationally recognized performance-based assessment, edTPA. It is a subject-specific assessment and support system used by educator-preparation providers to emphasize, support and measure the skills and knowledge that teacher candidates need to help all students learn, grow and succeed. Connecticut piloted edTPA from 2016 to 2018 and implemented it statewide in 2019. Available in 28 licensure areas and used in more than 40 states, edTPA builds on decades of teacher performance-assessment development and research regarding teaching skills and practices that improve student learning.
Implementing edTPA was a critical step for ensuring our educational workforce is well prepared, properly trained and competent. Yet some critics in the educational community take umbrage with this necessary, common-sense tool and related metrics, fearing that it will reduce the pool of new-teacher applicants, especially minority candidates, because it is “too rigid” or difficult, and requires additional preparation.
The editorial written by Aram Ayalon about edTPA (The CT Mirror, 2/5/20) is an example of this myopic thinking. Ayalon complained, without justification or facts, that edTPA is overly rigorous, demands too much of pre-service teachers, is managed by unqualified overseers employed by a greedy, for-profit entity and makes it more difficult to attract new teachers of color.
These accusations could not be more wrong. In a rebuttal by a Middletown teacher, Kelly Woodward, that ran February 12 in The CT Mirror, Woodward points out, correctly, that the well-respected Evaluation Systems Group of Pearson Corporation provides the scoring platform. Scorers must be P-12 teachers or teacher-preparation faculty with significant pedagogical content knowledge in the field they score, as well as have recent experience working as mentors for novice teachers.
Ayalon’s erroneous contentions that edTPA makes it more difficult to attract new teachers of color is a deficit way of thinking. Education-preparation programs need to ensure that all candidates are fully prepared to enter the classroom and ready to teach. Connecticut does struggle with achievement and attainment gaps, which reflect performance disparities between different school systems and minority student performance, and measure demographics of students attending college. But if anything, these gaps in scores between high-performing and low-performing school systems should propel us (educator-preparation programs) to do better, not to “lower the bar.”
In fact, noted scholar of race and education, Marvin Lynn, stresses the importance of creating challenging teacher-preparation programs, and states, “If we are going to change practice in teacher education on a large scale, we are going to have to overcome our discomfort with change and demand more of ourselves and our students. edTPA provides an objective measure to guide us through that growth as a field.”
Like several other teacher-preparation programs in Connecticut, Sacred Heart University is using edTPA, among other tools, to ensure that our graduates are ready to take on the responsibilities associated with the difficult, rewarding and high-stakes job of educating our nation’s children. Connecticut taxpayers should demand that new teachers entering the workforce are demonstrably ready to engage in such important work. And Connecticut policy makers should not be distracted by the claims of so-called edTPA “experts” whose records and motivations on the topic are suspect.
Michael P. Alfano is dean, Isabelle Farrington College of Education at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.