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Delay of new teacher certification requirements praised

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A last-minute decision by the state Board of Regents has given would-be teachers in Potsdam and across the state a second chance to receive certification, even if they failed the first time.

Last week’s decision allows education students who failed the controversial Education Teacher Performance Assessment, or EdTPA, to receive temporary certification if they pass an older exam.

A challenging test, the EdTPA aims to bring more rigor to the teacher certification process. It requires students to create a portfolio highlighting their work along with a video of themselves teaching in a classroom.

The test drew criticism from administrators, professors and unions, who said the program had been implemented too quickly without enough time to test it.

It was set to become an official requirement May 1, but the Board of Regents decision pushed the start date to July 1, 2015.

Students still will have to take the EdTPA, and those who receive certification without it will have to retake the test before the 2015 deadline.

“It essentially gives students a safety net, during this time of transition, so if they take it and fail it they’re not be completely up the creek,” said Peter S. Brouwer, dean of education and professional studies at SUNY Potsdam.

At SUNY Potsdam, 72 percent of students passed the EdTPA last semester and 80 percent succeeded this semester, about the same rate as students statewide.

This is not as dire as predictions made by the United University Professions union, which said failure rates could be as high as 40 percent. However, it is nowhere near the 98 percent pass rate scored by SUNY Potsdam students on the old exam.

Mr. Brouwer said he would have preferred the EdTPA requirement to be implemented more slowly in the first place. But he appreciates the state’s leeway to help students caught in the transitional period.

“I don’t think it hurts anyone,” he said. “I guess the one group it hurts is the group that took the EdTPA, failed it and paid the money to take it again.”

The EdTPA costs $300, while the old test is $89.

Jamie F. Dangler, statewide vice president for academics for United University Professions, called the decision an “important first step.”

“We want high standards, but we have to do it right,” she said.

The Board of Regents decision also created a task force which will spend the next year scrutinizing the EdTPA to consider whether any changes should be made.

Ms. Dangler said the test has not been studied properly. Professional educators need to play a larger role in its use, she said.

She said it might work better as a test for graduate students rather than undergraduates.

“We have a lot of work to do over the next year in order to address the problem,” she said. “Nobody has established the predictive validity of the EdTPA.”

Mr. Brouwer said he supports a more rigorous certification process. The problem is not with the EdTPA, he said, but with how quickly it was implemented. He said unions have been overly negative in their assessment of the EdTPA, but he commended them for persuading the state to delay it.

“They’re crying Chicken Little in terms of what they think the impact is going to be, but they are the ones putting the pressure on,” he said.

State Education Department Commissioner John B. King Jr. defended the EdTPA in a statement while acknowledging the need for a safety net.

“We’ve raised the bar for the teaching profession and at the same time we’ve ensured a smooth transition for teachers who have worked so hard to join the profession,” he said.

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