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Regents reverse policy on edTPA exam for teacher licensing

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B.

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King Jr. answers a question from a member of the New York State Senate Education Committee during a two-hour meeting at the Capitol in Albany on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: Philip Kamrass

College education majors struggling with a tough new teacher licensing exam are getting a year's reprieve from the state, following complaints from colleges and faculty unions that the testing initiative was rushed into place.

The state's policy reversal will allow students who fail the new national exam, known as edTPA, to pass an older state exam instead.

The edTPA, originally scheduled to become a statewide requirement this month, will become mandatory June 30, 2015.

The state's policymaking Board of Regents approved the change last week.

Jay Lewis, an associate education dean at Hofstra University, said that state officials were right to postpone the new testing requirement, but that they never should have set the May deadline in the first place.

"For them to put this group of students through this mill, when they knew there was a good chance they'd have to renege, I think was unconscionable," Lewis said.

The new exam, developed at Stanford University in California, requires prospective teacher candidates to submit videos of themselves teaching classroom lessons. Some candidates complained they didn't have adequate time to prepare the videos, while also adjusting to their temporary practice-teaching assignments.

In New York State, passing rates on the edTPA are running at about 83 percent so far, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Education. Passing percentages on the older state exam that edTPA will replace ran in the high 90s. The older exam is the Assessment of Teaching Skills-Written, or ATS-W.

Delay in using the new test is the latest in a series of retreats from state efforts to boost academic requirements quickly. In February, the Regents voted to delay until 2022 a requirement that high school students pass more rigorous exams in order to graduate.

Efforts to upgrade New York State's exams both for teachers and high school students have been encouraged and financed by federal authorities, under the "Race to the Top" program.

State education officials have insisted they took adequate time to prepare for the new edTPA exam. They noted, for example, that the deadline for requiring the test had been pushed back once before, from May 2013 to May 2014.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., said the decision for further delay was prompted by requests from college faculty and others for a "safety net" covering teacher candidates.

King and the Regents also faced pressure from state lawmakers. In March, leaders in the Assembly introduced legislation that would have excused teacher candidates from taking edTPA until April 2015.

Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions, a statewide faculty union, praised Assembly members for their stand. Kowal said the legislators' move paved the way, not only for delay of the testing requirement, but also for greater consultation between the Education Department and college representatives.

Under a new agreement, a state task force including faculty union members will review various aspects of the new teacher exam, including classroom videotapes, and make recommendations to the department for possible changes.

"The edTPA needs to be adjusted, and we now have time to bring about productive change," Kowal said.

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