Teacher Candidates Sweat and Scramble Over New Certification Tests

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For many education students looking to be fully certified in New York this September, now is crunch time for getting through a new set of requirements that many say are expensive and overly demanding. 

As of last spring, candidates must pass three new standardized exams plus a teacher performance assessment known as the edTPA. It comprises a qualitative project that includes lesson plans, video of the candidate's teaching, analysis of student progress and lengthy self-reflection of the candidate's own teaching practices.

“It’s basically a master’s thesis, which we’ve already done. It’s kind of like you’re producing a whole additional thesis document,” said Tara Canty, who is graduating with a master’s in early childhood education from Hunter College this August.

All together, the four new assessments are more difficult than the previous set of tests that had close to 100 percent pass rates. They are also more expensive: students spend a minimum of more than $600 for the full round of tests, compared to less than $300 in previous years.  

The most grueling of the new certification requirements, according to teachers in training, is the edTPA, developed at Stanford University and administered by Pearson. Candidates told WNYC they wrote dozens of pages answering specific prompts related to their teaching practice, many of them sounding very similar to each other.  

“What they are asking for is so subtle. It’s hard to figure out, ‘Am I writing the right thing? Or did I just write it in the other prompt?’ And then you look down the line, and you’re like, ‘Wow. All of these sound so much alike, ’” said Canty.

For that reason, Samantha Waller, a master's student in education at Brooklyn College, said the most helpful advice she received from an adviser was to familiarize herself with all the instructions, before she began writing. 

“It’s really a question of making sure you that you give yourself time to get very, very familiar with it to plan every single thing you’re going to do,” Waller said.

Once completed, students upload their performance assessments to testing company Pearson which has a contract with the state education department.

Daneel Howe, also at Brooklyn College, has been working on her assessment for the past three months. She said she didn't mind the effort but it was painful to think that the pages and pages of text she will submit likely will only be skimmed by scorers.

“I know they’re not going to spend the amount of time I’m spending to do the work to grade what I’ve submitted,” she said.

Plus, she said, the cost hurts. The edTPA alone is $300.

David Steiner, dean of the school of education at Hunter College, said he is a big supporter of requiring a performance assessment before teachers enter the classroom. Indeed, he was commissioner of the education department when New York promised a performance assessment of student teachers in its application for federal Race to the Top funds.

But, he called the edTPA in its current form “over-ornate."

“I fully understand the idea, which is to test as many dimensions of teaching as possible," he said. "But the frameworks that you have to put material into, the multiple hoops to jump through to get it all organized, feel a bit heavy to me. I’m wondering if, as this test gets revised — which of course it will — there are some ways in which it could be simplified.”

Of the four new assessments, the edTPA has the highest pass rate for New York candidates, at about 80 percent. There is currently a safety net in place: candidates who fail have the option of taking the old pen-and-paper exam the new tests replaced, at least this year.

The safety net is due to expire June 30, unless the New York Board of Regents decides to extend it.