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New teaching certification rules are unfair to students, SUNY officials say


POTSDAM — The rapid rollout of new state teaching certification requirements is under fire for allowing would-be teachers to fall through the cracks.

The newly implemented Education Teacher Performance Assessment, more commonly called EdTPA, is in the crosshairs at SUNY Potsdam and statewide.

The assessment requires students create a lengthy portfolio that showcases their ability over the course of the seven weeks they spend student-teaching.

“They gather what they call artifacts, which are evidence of their teaching ability throughout the semester, and they need to submit those near the middle or end of the semester,” said Peter S. Brouwer, dean of education and professional studies at SUNY Potsdam.

This includes 20 minutes of unedited video showing the student teacher’s performance in the classroom. The previous assessment system also involved creating a comprehensive portfolio, but EdTPA is a major departure both in terms of what material is required and how it is to be presented.

The new requirement does not officially take effect until May, but students are already taking the test in order to be properly certified by the time they start their careers.

About 30 percent of students statewide who attempted the exam last semester failed, compared to 10 percent or lower in previous years, according to Mr. Brouwer.

“I’m actually surprised it’s not higher,” he said.

The high failure rate is blamed on the rapid implementation of the new requirement, giving colleges little time to prepare for the change.

Students who had spent their entire college education preparing for one type of exam had to suddenly switch gears.

Mr. Brouwer said he called the state Education Department with questions, only to discover that the officials in charge did not have the answers.

The exam is a “high-stakes certification requirement,” he said, under the supervision of the state rather than the colleges. It impacts both private and public institutions.

One suggestion for relieving some of the problems is making the exam a program requirement for the colleges, leaving its administration in their control rather than the control of the state.

“It’s a disconnected system right now, where if it was a college program it could be implemented into our system,” Mr. Brouwer said.

Other states have implemented the EdTPA, but most of them make it a program requirement at the college level rather than a certification requirement controlled by the state.

The new requirements are not as simple as adding a few elements to an existing method. Students must learn to present their work within an entirely new context, filled with new phrases and technicalities.

“It has a new vocabulary, a new language,” said Jamie F. Dangler, statewide vice-president for academics for United University Professions, the union that includes most SUNY employees.

UUP is among the most vocal critics of EdTPA, calling for the requirement to be removed until it can be further studied and discussed. It should have been developed with input from teachers, not imposed from the top down, Ms. Dangler said.

“Our primary suggestion is educators should be involved in deciding how EdTPA is used,” she said.

The test is administered by for-profit corporation Pearson Education, which has sparked further criticism.

“Some people are kind of concerned about that. They’ve kind of established a monopoly over assessments, and they sell curriculum, too. They sell textbooks,” Mr. Brouwer said.

Despite the criticism, Mr. Brouwer said he believes EdTPA is overall a step forward. The Stanford University-designed requirement has been endorsed by some of the nation’s largest education organizations, including the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. On paper, the more rigorous and more comprehensive requirements should result in better teachers, and early research is positive. Mr. Brouwer said the problem is not with the exam, but with the sudden way it was imposed, which left schools scrambling to comply.

“It was really unfair to the students who just happened to graduate during that period of time,” he said.

Ms. Dangler said she is not sure whether the exam is an improvement, saying it should have been better studied before it was made mandatory for certification in New York. She said it takes a long time to fully realize the value of a new set of standards.

“Using a new assessment tool that has not been proven to be a valid measure for student teachers, and rolling it out in such a quick way that did not give programs the ability to prepare students, is crazy,” she said.

SUNY Potsdam should be fully prepared to teach to the new standards by this fall.

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