Analysis: Unions Are Somehow Both For and Against Teacher Candidate Assessment — at the Same Time

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By a 37-0 vote last month, the New Jersey State Senate passed S896, which would eliminate the requirement for teacher candidates to complete a “performance based assessment” other than any included in their university programs. Currently, prospective teachers must successfully complete the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment, better known as edTPA. The assessment requires teachers to submit a portfolio of their student teaching materials and an unedited video of a classroom lesson.

The bill has the full-throated support of the New Jersey Education Association. The union is urging its members to contact their lawmakers to get the Assembly version of the measure heard in committee and passed on the floor.

The union has a lot of complaints about edTPA on its website. It’s “an expensive, long, complicated process that takes precious time away from more effective teaching, peer collaboration and authentic student interaction.”

It’s “unnecessary.” It “hinders many potential teacher candidates — especially Black and brown candidates — from entering the profession.” It’s partly responsible for “a severe teacher shortage.”

How did such a detrimental requirement come into being? EdTPA, according to the union, “is another high-stakes assessment created by Pearson.”

Pearson calls itself “the world’s leading learning company.” It is involved in many areas of education, but its primary task is to create and administer assessments and qualifications. Perhaps emblematic of concerns about the company’s involvement in U.S. public education is that the word “qualifications” is misspelled on its website.

Pearson also administers and scores K-12 student standardized assessments. The company has  often been the target of teachers union ire because of its alleged role in the privatization of public schools.

EdTPA itself has come under fire from some researchers, who in December 2019 called for a moratorium on its use until the “reliability, precision and validity of the scores” could be proven.

So certainly there are legitimate concerns about edTPA, but to call it “another high-stakes assessment created by Pearson” is not only untrue, but a whitewash of how it was created, who was involved and the substantial role teacher unions and other establishment education organizations still play in its use.

EdTPA was not created by Pearson, but by researchers at the Stanford University Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity. Pearson itself has acknowledged that “Stanford University is the exclusive author and owner of edTPA.” The Stanford group has stated plainly that Pearson “has no authority or decision-making role in the design and development of edTPA.”

Prominent among the Stanford researchers was Linda Darling-Hammond, who has had a storied career in education research and is currently president of the California State Board of Education. The National Education Association honored her with its Friend of Education award in 2009.

As Darling-Hammond emphasized in her initial defense of edTPA in 2012, her group partnered with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education to test the assessment, which she said was based on the model created for working educators by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

EdTPA is scored by current or retired classroom teachers and university professors. Both Becky Pringle, current NEA president, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten sat on the edTPA National Advisory Board.

NEA provides teacher candidates with a host of materials on edTPA. “Classroom-based performance assessments provide a uniform tool allowing teacher-candidates, regardless of preparation pathway, to demonstrate they are profession ready prior to assuming full responsibility for the teaching and learning of their students,” reads one handout.

Though edTPA is not Pearson’s brainchild, the company is crucial to the assembling of teacher candidates’ submissions, along with the staffing and technology required to score them. How do teachers unions handle their opposition to Pearson on one hand and their involvement in edTPA on the other?

Not well, it seems.

Back in 2015, delegates to NEA’s representative assembly introduced a new business item that would have required the union to cut ties with any foundation or corporation linked to “the negative public education reform movement,” naming in particular the Gates Foundation, Microsoft and Pearson.

During debate, NEA’s then-President Lily Eskelsen García undercut the measure by stating that it might keep the union from working with a long list of civil rights groups. That was enough to ensure the proposal’s overwhelming defeat.

In 2016, AFT submitted a resolution to Pearson calling for it to “conduct a thorough business strategy review of Pearson PLC including education commercialization and its support of high-stakes testing and low-fee private schools.”

The union was able to do so because it was a shareholder in the company.

The resolution received 2.4% of the shareholder vote.

Pearson and edTPA deserve to be scrutinized thoroughly. But NEA, AFT, AACTE, SCALE, NBPTS and any other education establishment organization in the alphabet soup should join them under the microscope.

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