Teacher Preparation

OPINION: Game Changer: When teachers prove they can teach all kinds of students

Performance-based assessments can help end racial bias, two experts explain why

Lori Smith (left) and Heather Hobbs (right), two teacher leaders in the Kingsport City Schools district, participate in a Common Core training session in Kingsport, Tenn.

Teachers participate in a Common Core training session in Kingsport, Tenn.

Despite headlines about teacher shortages and a workforce that must become more diversified, recent federal regulations and a decade of policy has focused on the quality of teaching and teacher preparation to ensure that all teachers are ready to teach and meet high standards of performance from Day One.

These competing priorities present challenges to states in setting high standards for teaching. On a parallel track with the teacher pipeline dilemma, another important and debated story is unfolding.

The growing movement to require aspiring teachers to pass performance-based assessments to demonstrate that they can teach what they know – to all of their students – is a seismic shift for the field. Teachers have long had to pass tests of subject-matter expertise. But deciding if they can teach in diverse classrooms and schools has been left to the professional judgement of each institution.

Related: On a classroom-based test for new teachers, black teachers score lower

Literally thousands of institutions have been recommending candidates for licensure without a common definition of successful teaching via “home-grown” assessment instruments that measure teaching and learning with minimal or no evidence of reliability and validity. In short, decisions about teacher effectiveness essentially followed the “just trust me” model with little or no research evidence to support judgements of teacher competence.

This is a profession-based anomaly. Most professions allow entry to their respective field only to those who demonstrate agreed-upon core skills on an independent assessment of competence. Educator preparation is moving in this direction and taking a major step to becoming a profession governed by agreed upon standards that are both enforced and regulated by a system of assessment that is reliable and valid.

Performance assessment is now required for program completion, licensure or program approval in more than 20 states. The most common performance assessment used to review, assess and support teacher candidates is edTPA. edTPA was designed to independently measure what matters most: a beginning teacher’s ability to effectively teach subject-matter content to diverse students in varied contexts. It focuses on lesson planning, instruction, assessment and academic language – all in support of student learning.

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Since its launch in the fall of 2013, more than 80,000 edTPA portfolios have been submitted by teacher candidates and scored by trained professional educators from higher education and P-12 schools, including a significant pool of teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. edTPA has come a long way from “home grown” portfolio based performance assessments developed in the 1990s, particularly when it comes to assessing content/pedagogy supported by strong evidence of reliability and validity.

Most importantly, training and monitoring of scorers for edTPA focuses on scoring that is credible and defensible and not biased by a candidate’s race or ethnicity or the children they teach. How do we know this? Scorers are recruited and selected based on their experiences teaching in the subject area they will score.

They engage in more than 20 hours of training that includes attention to bias, with dozens of opportunities to examine evidence of teaching practice for each edTPA rubric and to make consistent scoring judgments about the level of performance demonstrated by that evidence. All scorers must meet qualification standards through examining their performance on pre-selected benchmark portfolios and are monitored throughout the scoring process.

Related: Why don’t more teachers like the edTPA?

Extensive piloting and field testing ensured that edTPA met all the requirements for high-stakes licensure assessment according to AERA, APA and NCME technical standards.

The results from our large scale field trials and two years of operational use are promising – data show more equitable results for edTPA than traditional standardized measures of teaching knowledge and skills.

As noted in our recently released 2015 Administrative Report, across more than 21,000 candidates taking edTPA consequentially that year, the average score was 44.53 in comparison to the nationally recommended standard of 42. Differences by demographic groups were small and a regression analysis revealed that only 4% of the variability in candidate performance is attributable to demographic factors. This finding clearly highlights that candidate performance has little to do with the demographic attributes of the candidate and has much more to do with the quality of the candidate’s preparation and the teaching competence of the teacher candidate.

Related: Will controversial new tests for teachers make the profession even more overwhelmingly white?

For women, the mean score (44.86) was higher than the mean score for men (43.39), and suburban teachers (45.26) scored higher than teachers in other settings. The mean scores of White and Hispanic candidates were identical (44.69), and the mean score for African American candidates was several points lower (41.07). Further, candidates whose primary language is English and those who speak other primary languages were less than one point apart (44.55 and 43.67, respectively).

It is important to note the difference in sample sizes of some of the subgroups within each demographic category may affect the ability to generalize these results to the national pre-service teaching population. Moreover, while sub-group performance is encouraging we are launching this year a research forum to study and better understand gaps in performance across sub-groups.

The overall pool of candidates taking edTPA reflect the national data that shows a low number of diverse candidates entering the teacher workforce. As The Hechinger Report recently noted, the percentage of white teacher candidates (74 percent) enrolled in traditional preparation programs is nearly triple that of all other racial and ethnic groups (26 percent) combined. However, Richard Ingersoll’s research has documented small but steady increases in the number of candidates of color over the last decade.

Related: What happens when teachers spend more time in a classroom — before teaching?

There is much work to do. Teaching must be a respected profession that pays a competitive salary and provides opportunities for advancement and recognition. States can take a leadership role in adopting policies that promote high-quality teaching across a teacher’s career, from pre-service to National Board Certification and beyond.

States also can fund residency programs, fellowships for underserved populations, loan forgiveness programs, salary enhancements as well as adopt distributive leadership policies to support professional advancement. In addition, states can support innovations in teacher recruitment and preparation, such as Educators Rising, which guides young people on a path to becoming accomplished teachers, beginning in high school.

We also must help reinforce the prestige of teaching and respect for the profession. Following in the footsteps of National Board Certification for accomplished teachers, quality performance assessments such as edTPA, when properly designed, implemented and supported, can help raise public confidence in beginning teachers and lead to greater learning for all students. National surveys has consistently found that the quality of the teacher is the determining factor for public confidence in the education system. Therefore, we believe performance assessments such as the edTPA build teacher capacity and provides objective evidence to the public to ensure new teachers are ready to teach and succeed from Day One.

Related: Obama budget pushes for better training for teachers

Why do we believe so strongly in edTPA? This comment from an Illinois teacher asked to reflect on her preparation and edTPA experience at Illinois State University says it best: “A traditional question-based test does not best reflect how a teacher performs in the classroom,” said Lisa Browning, a math and science teacher at Jack London Middle School in Wheeling, Illinois. “edTPA allows a teacher to make connections with students and apply them in their classroom. It is a more realistic job related take on how a teacher will perform.”

We believe that edTPA is giving the field, and the public, common language and a common definition of what it means to be a beginning professional teacher. That’s a new standard for teaching that all parents, school officials and teachers from all backgrounds can embrace – ensuring that all students have a well-prepared and highly effective teacher.

Ray Pecheone is the executive director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE).

 Andrea Whittaker is director of teacher performance assessment at SCALE.

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Andrea Whittaker

Andrea Whittaker is director of teacher performance assessment at SCALE. See Archive

Raymond Pecheone

Ray Pecheone is the executive director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE). See Archive