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Kneeling on the classroom floor, student teacher Adam Samuels helps second-graders count Goldfish crackers and paper clips.
Sure, this lesson quizzes the students on their math skills — but it’s also a test of Samuels’ ability to teach.
He is submitting video recordings of this lesson, along with 70 pages of lesson plans and reflections, through a pilot program of a teaching assessment that’s catching on as a new national standard.
“You have to justify what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” said Samuels, 22, who graduated this spring with an elementary education degree from Indiana University. “I feel like I can justify myself in every aspect of the classroom.”
The pre-teaching assessment, known as edTPA, is a practical evaluation of teacher candidates. Hoping to bring it to Indiana, proponents say that unlike pencil-and-paper tests, edTPA makes teachers prove they are ready to teach before leading their own classrooms.
Under Tony Bennett’s administration, the state department of education didn’t take up edTPA, local educators say. But count current Indiana superintendent of public instruction Glenda Ritz among edTPA’s supporters.
She sees edTPA as an opportunity to raise Indiana’s teaching standards to align with common national benchmarks — an opportunity, perhaps, to push more teachers toward national certification.
“I’d like to see Indiana head toward that type of pre-service work — really internalizing with our teachers that they need to be reflective practitioners,” Ritz said.
“They have to look at their practice,” she said. “They have to belong to associations. They have to look at research. They need to be that type of learner.”
In Indiana, colleges of education can set their own requirements for prospective teachers before recommending them for state licensure and having them take state licensing tests.
But if the state looked to edTPA, the same rigorous assessment would apply across the board, said Ena Shelley, education dean at Butler University and president of the Indiana Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.
“Let’s set the bar for the profession, and let’s set it for everyone,” she said.
Butler, IU try new approach
Butler joins IU this fall in piloting edTPA. It’s an important step, Shelley said, as Indiana plans to roll out new teacher tests around the same time — and many educators remain skeptical that these pedagogy evaluations can sufficiently evaluate teachers.
“I just don’t believe you can get to the depth of a candidate’s preparation in a standardized way of testing,” Shelley said.
Widespread use of the assessment could open a trove of valuable data on teacher candidates that education colleges don’t have right now. Colleges could cull data on how prepared Indiana candidates are compared to other states’ — and hold their programs accountable for their performance, said Brad Balch, Indiana State University’s education dean.
“To what extent are we assuring that all teaching providers are providing a quality program?” he asked. “We struggle to answer that.”
It would be a “missed opportunity,” he said, not to take advantage of edTPA. It could align higher education accountability to K-12 accountability — connecting data on teacher preparation to teacher performance.
“It’s a continuous improvement cycle,” he said. “Right now, Indiana doesn’t have anything like that.”
24 states already use it
Two dozen states are using edTPA, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which created the test with Stanford University.
Just a handful of states have adopted it as a state teaching requirement or are moving toward doing so.
Samuels, the second-grade student teacher, is one of about 50 IU students to try edTPA. Student-teaching at Lawrenceburg Primary School, he spent spring break preparing for the comprehensive assessment. During the semester, he continued to work on his edTPA portfolio after school and after coaching the tennis team.
Compared to other student-teachers not in the edTPA pilot, Samuels felt he poured much more work into his lesson reflections to deeply examine what worked, what didn’t, and why — but he was glad when it was over.
“Overall, it was worth it,” he said, “but I kind of hated it at times.”
Samuels agrees with educators that students should be able to demonstrate the skills required by edTPA, as time-consuming as it is.
“If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing as a teacher, then it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “Every teacher should be able to complete it.”
Like doing a thesis or a capstone, by the time student-teachers start edTPA, they should have already received supervisors’ feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, said Rob Kunzman, an associate education dean who is leading IU’s pilot program.
“We get a much better sense of whether or not our students are learning how to do what we think they’re learning how to do,” he said.
But it isn’t an all-encompassing assessment. What edTPA doesn’t cover, Kunzman said, is long-term classroom management, communication with parents and collaboration with other teachers.
And it can be pricy — costing around $400 per student to use Pearson’s model, which includes submitting the portfolio for external evaluation.
Educators are still pondering how edTPA could be incorporated into their individual programs. For some, there are questions of how to pay for the assessment, how it fits into the timeline of student teaching and whether they like external evaluation of the portfolios or would want their own faculty to look at them.
But there’s time to figure that out. Although Ritz has expressed her support, the state has not yet made concrete strides toward statewide implementation of edTPA. That’s a move that local educators say they hope to make as soon as this summer.
“This is a massive undertaking,” Kunzman said. “We think there’s a more substantive conversation that’s to be had about teacher quality than test scores. We think that actual practice and in-depth analysis of that practice is really what’s at the heart of what quality teacher preparation is.”
Scott Elliott contributed to this story.