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How the edTPA Disrupts Relationships
Reclaiming our visions and integrity

By Mara Sapon-Shevin and Sue Novinger Robb

Home > Archives > Volume 31 No.3 - Spring 2017
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Christiane Grauert

Mara: Caroline sits in my office weeping. She has failed the edTPA (a high-stakes assessment of teaching readiness) and can’t understand why. Her previous performance (both in class and in her practica) has been stellar; feedback from cooperating teachers and supervisors all speak to her enthusiasm, her creative lessons, and how well she engages a broad range of learners.

I ask her which lesson she submitted for edTPA analysis. Caroline had organized the students into heterogeneous cooperative learning groups, and each group was engaged in seeking information about aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. She thought the lesson was successful, and the students’ performance was what she had hoped for. But in writing up the lesson, she struggled to describe what she did in a way consistent with the edTPA framework, and her evaluations of group and individual work weren’t a good “fit” for the edTPA rubric.

I don’t know what to say. Caroline’s lesson flowed directly from our program’s focus on inclusion and diversity. I don’t want to warn students to structure lessons based on the edTPA rather than their best understanding of students and their learning. But I want Caroline to get her credential. Words stick in my throat.

This vignette highlights one of the many problems and disruptions created by the edTPA—among prospective teachers (PTs), teacher education faculty, and cooperating school personnel. In fact, the edTPA calls into question what we value about ourselves, our teaching, and our relationships.

Originally named the Teacher Performance Assessment, the edTPA was developed by a team of distinguished researchers at Stanford, including Linda Darling-Hammond, with the stated goal of improving teacher quality, teacher education, and the profession’s reputation. They worked with Pearson and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education to roll it out.

To complete the edTPA, PTs compile a portfolio of materials, including short videos of learning segments and analytic commentaries drawing on research and theory to justify their pedagogical choices and interpret their students’ learning. The commentary prompts do have the potential to elicit thoughtful analysis (e.g., PTs are asked to explain how they used assessment data to plan for instruction). But the prompts are highly prescriptive, and PTs must use the specialized vocabulary of the edTPA (e.g., academic language, language function) and grapple with complex, redundant instructions in the manuals. Completed portfolios are submitted to Pearson for scoring—by Pearson-trained reviewers. The reviewers have no knowledge of the context or people involved, other than what PTs write in their commentaries.

Use of edTPA is widespread—and growing. More than 600 teacher preparation programs in 40 states and the District of Columbia are using edTPA. As of this writing, 12 states have adopted and more are considering edTPA for teacher licensure or approval of teacher preparation programs. Hawaii and Washington require PTs to pass the edTPA for education program completion.

In 2010, teacher educator Ann Berlak first warned of the negative impact of an early test version of the edTPA (Performance Assessment for California Teachers) in the pages of Rethinking Schools, which also printed a special section with varying perspectives on the assessment in 2013. Concerted resistance to the edTPA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2012–13 resulted in teacher educator/activist Barbara Madeloni losing her faculty position there. (See References.)

Now, after a number of years of experience with the edTPA nationally, in this article we grapple with the ways that it radically disrupts the very relationships that create rich contexts for transformative education and teacher education.

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