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New teacher candidates face demanding rules for certification

Jay Lewis, of Hofstra University, on Wednesday, March

Jay Lewis, of Hofstra University, on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, says the Regents are rushing the new system into place. Credit: Johnny Milano

New candidates for teaching jobs in New York State, starting in May, must submit 20-minute videos of themselves working successfully in classrooms with groups of students as part of professional certification requirements approved by the state Board of Regents.

The new assessment system, called edTPA, was first field-tested by Stanford University researchers in the 2011-12 school year. It is widely regarded as a solid measure of whether college students training to be teachers are ready to handle real-life classroom situations.

Many college deans, parents and students, however, complained that the Regents and their staff in the state Department of Education are rushing the new system into place, risking high failure rates during the first round of scoring this spring.

"Their timeline is just completely unrealistic," said Jay Lewis, an associate dean at Hofstra University's School of Education, referring to the state's rollout schedule. "We had basically 18 months to put this together."

Lewis acknowledged the validity of edTPA and its innovative qualities. "There has never been a performance-based test like this," he said.

Education Department officials noted they already had postponed edTPA's use for a year, to give colleges and education students more time to prepare. The Regents approved the general concept of a new assessment in 2009.

Those officials underscored the urgency of ensuring that new teachers are professionally qualified to deliver lessons based on more rigorous Common Core academic standards now required in elementary and secondary schools throughout the state.

"Like other professions, we're saying this is the hallmark of what it means to be ready to teach in the classroom," said Stephanie Wood-Garnett, an assistant state commissioner for higher education.

"I would remind colleges of why this assessment is being required," the assistant commissioner added. "Requirements are rising. Teachers have to be familiar with the Common Core standards."

Wood-Garnett predicted that initial passing rates on the new battery would be in "the low 70s." Some experts' outside estimates have run lower. Passing percentages on another test being phased out in favor of edTPA were in the high 90s.

The state's certification requirements include three other tests, largely multiple choice, covering general knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and knowledge of the teacher's specific academic area -- for example, English or math.

Combined fees for the batteries run a little over $650, including $300 for edTPA.

New York State's introduction of new teacher exams, like its rollout of new tests in grades 3-8, is supported by federal Race to the Top money. Both initiatives have spurred protests from educators and parents that officials in Albany and the nation's capital are moving too fast.

Thirty-five states use edTPA, mostly as a training tool. Two states, New York and Washington, require the battery, also known as the Teacher Performance Assessment, for professional licensing.

The edTPA requirement regarded as most innovative is a video of 15 to 20 minutes, showing a candidate teacher working with classes of children. Educational professionals who score the videos look for classroom atmospheres in which students' response to the teacher is positive and respectful.

EdTPA also requires candidates to submit three to five lesson plans covering three days of classes, along with samples of tests and other assessment tools used with their students.

Candidates, in addition, must write reports of six to 10 pages discussing instructional goals and approaches, and describing the students with whom they work, as well as their districts and schools.

Preparing videos and written reports for edTPA can be a challenge for college seniors who also are serving in temporary assignments as student teachers.

Tom Pinto, 21, an education major at upstate SUNY Brockport, said he struggles with a schedule that requires him to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to start his student teaching assignment, then coaching sports in the evening while preparing for the new assessment.

"To put together edTPA while student teaching is absolutely ridiculous," Pinto said. "I'm worried about passing."The new testing requirements pose a challenge for college training programs that must obtain consent forms from parents and students to participate in the videotaping. Campus officials said they worry about the emotional impact on their students.

"I have never seen a level of anxiety approaching this," said Ken Lindblom, director of a training program for English teachers at Stony Brook University. Lindblom, an associate English professor, emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not the university.



New assessment criteria for teacher candidates


Video of teacher in action. Candidates must submit a 20-minute videotape that shows them working in the classroom. Educators who score the videos will look for positive, respectful response of students.

Lesson plans. Candidates must show three to five lesson plans covering three days of classes, as well as samples of tests and other assessment tools used with students.

Written reports. Candidates must write reports of six to 10 pages discussing instructional goals and describing students with whom they work, their districts and schools.

Cost. $300 for edTPA; approximately $350 more for other tests covering general knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and knowledge of the teacher's specific academic area.

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