Teachers in training need more personalized support and fewer barriers
On Friday, March 6, 2020 members of the Education Committee of the CT General Assembly held a public hearing on a number of agenda items. Among them is HB5376, a bill that will hopefully eliminate the edTPA requirement for students in teacher training. As a former public school teacher, administrator, and current faculty member in a teacher preparation program, I care deeply about the training, formative experiences, and ultimately the quality of the teachers in our state. However, “quality” might mean different things to different people.
To me, quality rising teachers are knowledgeable in their subject areas (they prove this by taking Praxis examinations), are trained in pedagogical theories (Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs accomplish this through their mandatory coursework aligned with state licencing requirements), and have opportunities to bridge theory and practice through pre-service experiences. (They do this by participating in internships and student teaching.) As in any field, pre-certified teachers do not begin by knowing it all. Ongoing support and meaningful feedback is essential, especially for those beginning their careers.
The demands and responsibilities placed upon public school teachers in our state have dramatically increased over the last few decades. It should be no surprise that The State of the Connecticut Teacher Workforce (August 2019) notes that Connecticut shows imbalances between the supply and demand for public school teachers in geographic, subject-area, and diversity measures, and some imbalances are getting worse. In recent years, there has been a dramatic decline in the enrollment in teacher preparation programs.
More and more teachers are leaving education in Connecticut, the socioeconomic backgrounds of students are changing (including increases in English learners, in students living in poverty, in urban districts, and in students with Individual Education Plans), there are persistent shortages in key specializations (such as Special Education, Mathematics, Science, World Languages, Bilingual Education and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), School Library/Media Specialists, and Speech and Language Pathologists), and that some shortages are compounded by co-occuring challenges (ex: high-poverty districts face challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers). So, why then continue policies that further create barriers for our future teachers of color and those from working-class backgrounds?
There is a lack of peer-reviewed research supporting edTPA. This is a fact. Conversely, there is sufficient scholarly concern. Gitomer, Martinez, Battey, and Hyland (2019) examined the technical documentation of edTPA and raised “serious concerns about scoring design, the reliability of the assessments, and the consequential impact on decisions about edTPA candidates.” I am currently experiencing in practice the issues raised by a recent white paper by University of Connecticut colleagues (Bernard, Kaufman, Kohan & Mitoma, 2019). The authors conducted a program evaluation and found that the edTPA diminishes candidate learning, perpetuates inequitable systems, and applies developmentally inappropriate standards.
I teach a seminar course for students concurrently completing their student teaching and edTPA. The seminar is supposed to provide a forum in which to discuss, reflect on, and refine teaching practices. However, because of edTPA much of that is no longer happening. Our class time is quickly consumed by edTPA questions and concerns.
When I have asked students to share how their week went, rather than hearing about them implementing some of the new English learner (EL) strategies we recently introduced, or how they have practiced engaging with families after some of the resources we have explored, I get responses like, “I cried all weekend while trying to complete edTPA Task 2.” “I am so confused, the vocabulary in the edTPA guidebook is vague and confusing.” “I didn’t have time to plan the really interesting math lesson I wanted to implement, because of Task 2. This requirement is so unauthentic.”
Rather than supporting students with my practical expertise, I have to narrow my own curriculum to address students’ anxiety regarding edTPA and answer logistical questions regarding the requirements and expectations, much of which they are not finding helpful to their practice.
Most of my students have expressed significant concerns with edTPA, including that it is not meaningful or supportive. It does not seamlessly blend into the diverse experiences student teachers are participating in throughout Connecticut classrooms, it is not encouraging students to try new strategies to address their organic classroom issues, and it certainly is not providing ongoing expert feedback based on multiple live observations.
Instead, the edTPA creates a hyperfocus on a single, narrow measure due to its high-stakes nature. If we want quality teachers, the edTPA is not the way to get them. Rather than the time, energy, and funds necessary to support the edTPA, the state and teacher preparation institutions can focus on pre-service and in-service differentiated training to support, and ultimately retain, Connecticut teachers who are entering or staying in the profession at a pace that will support the demand for them.
Without edTPA, I believe my colleagues and I could better focus on attracting and supporting teachers into the shortage areas that already exacerbate the issues faced by many of our districts, especially those with high concentrations of students of color and students living in poverty. Much like an overemphasis on standardized testing has not narrowed the opportunity gap for students, neither does edTPA for rising teachers.
For these reasons, and from my professional opinion, and from the fact that edTPA is widely associated with negative outcomes in the far majority of peer-reviewed research studies, I ask the committee to eliminate the edTPA requirement for our future teachers of Connecticut.
Violet Jiménez Sims is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education.
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