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A popular, bipartisan bill eliminating a controversial teacher qualifying test called the EdTPA passed the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly unanimously on June 29th after strong support from teacher advocates, superintendents, and those who value teacher diversity. Yet it sits unsigned on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk even as schools prepare to open.
Why won’t Murphy sign it?
Why hasn’t his Department of Education reached out to districts to clarify whether incoming teachers have met teacher certification requirements?
Welcome to New Jersey.
The EdTPA, or the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment, is one of a series of steps aspiring teachers take to get their certifications in specific subject areas. Currently 18 states, including New Jersey, use EdTPA as one of those steps–and it’s a whopper, requiring candidates to compile an extensive portfolio of written responses, transcripts of lessons, and videos that cover three main teaching tasks.
Some people think it’s a good test. Others don’t, mainly because the final score relies on the opinion of a single scorer. For instance, this peer-reviewed study found the scoring was inconsistent and highly dependent on that single reader: “the true reliability of edTPA scores is effectively unknown,” the researchers say. A dean at a teachers college called it “an expensive, daunting and inaccurate measurement of teacher efficiency.” (Teacher candidates have to pay $300 and estimate it takes anywhere from 40-100 hours to complete.)
Here’s a reddit thread:
“Submitted mine last Friday. I thought I would be happy to have it all done and behind me. Instead, I just feel dirty and ashamed.”
“I am giving serious consideration to printing it all out and burning it when I’m done to cleanse myself.”
A piece in nj.com quotes Lisa Rizziello, a 35-year veteran teacher in West Windsor-Plainsboro Public Schools, who says the EdTPA is “horrific and torturous process” that has “a cascading effect of people dropping out of the education major in colleges because of its unrealistic and unfair process” to obtain teacher certification. “I am baffled as to why the governor has not signed it,” says Rizziello, “when that would help eliminate such a terrible certification process and help bring individuals back into the education major in colleges.”
Look, we all want our children’s teachers to have solid mastery of course content before they enter a classroom. We all want our teachers to have the complete set of skills necessary to ensure effective instruction. As Kate Walsh of the National Center for Teacher Quality says, “dropping the assessment or keeping the assessment, they’re both irresponsible unless you have the evidence,” and I haven’t found any study looking specifically at whether results on the EdTPA predict future teacher effectiveness in NJ. (Walsh says only Massachusetts did an internal study.) Our severely-diluted teacher evaluation system doesn’t help either; you know we’re too lenient when 98-99% members of a profession are rated “effective.”
I hope we also all want to diversify the teacher pipeline: study after study shows students of color benefit enormously from having teachers who look like them. Yet the data is mixed on how prospective Black or Brown teacher candidates perform on the EdTPA. This study in Washington State found that Hispanic teacher candidates were three times more likely to fail the assessment compared with white candidates while Black teachers scores were up and down; the effect cultivated a “‘keepout’ climate that blocks teachers of color from the teacher workforce.” A paper published yesterday finds that teachers who graduated from HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) are especially effective with Black students “as a result of these colleges’ historical and contemporary commitment to educating teachers in culturally-fluent pedagogical practices that are conducive to Black student academic success.” Shouldn’t that matter as much as the result of a single controversial test?
Sure, it’s complicated. Yet there is no excuse for Murphy and the DOE to refuse to commit one way or the other. When Tina Kelley of the Star-Ledger asked the DOE for a comment, spokesman Mike Yaple said, “talk to the Governor’s Office.” When she did, the Governor’s Office “declined to comment.”
Governor, sign the bill or don’t. But let the public know. Is that too much to ask?