Goodbye edTPA, Hello Better Relationships

Like many faculty and staff who work with teacher candidates in New York State, I was glad to see the edTPA discontinued. (Glad = whoop of delight, shout of “YES!” and fist in the air.)

I didn’t have a problem with the task it presented: teachers should be able to plan and assess their lessons, and they should be able to provide valid reasons for why they do what they do in the classroom. Fair enough. What I, and many others, had a problem with was the timing.

The student teaching experience is a time when newbies have a chance to put into practice all they’ve been learning – a time for synthesis of knowledge and skills. Given that, a task that asks students to carefully document and provide rationales for what they are doing in the classroom might seem a good match for the situation. But when the edTPA is embedded in student teaching, it robs time from one of its most important benefits: the chance to build relationships over time with classroom teachers and with students. How does it do that? Simply put, the edTPA is an outsized assessment tool that shifts the teacher candidates’ attention from classroom dynamics to words on the page.

Hey, I’m a writer: I value writing and long for “words on the page” to be more valued by students. But at that point in the candidates’ entry into the profession, I don’t value it over time to reflect, time to relax, time to enter a classroom and interact as one human with another.

Let’s keep in mind that when a teacher walks into the classroom as one human being, that interaction with “another” might be a full day with thirty five-year-olds, or a day of having over 100 teenagers cycle through the classroom. Students in NYS take part in significant time in the classroom during their practicum experiences, but it is student teaching that immerses them in the life of a classroom teacher. It is daunting, humbling, and exhilarating all at once. It is, if all goes well, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and students can best learn from it by musing, staring out the window, and talking over their observations and ideas with their university and classroom mentors.

In ordinary, pre-COVID times, relationships in the classroom were vital to the success of the grand educational mission of the classroom. The edTPA, as a misfit in the student teaching experience, was a hindrance to that mission. These days, the isolation we’ve experienced has left all the stakeholders in schooling – the students, their parents, guardians, teachers, professors, and community –  stressed and trying to build back. Subtracting the edTPA from student teaching adds vital time for the reflection and thoughtful conversations that can help us nurture not only professional knowledge, but the compassion and empathy we all need to navigate these extraordinary times.

Study Materials for the EAS

An effective way to study material is to somehow make it your own.

And you can make it your own by making your own – flashcards, outlines, study guides.

Here’s a start:

  • Is there lots of content to study?

Make flashcards (Flashcards are a topic all their own, I’ll just say here that you should make them, and if you can, you should make them by hand – writing out the information on index cards. A word or short phrase goes on one side of the card, the definition and, if possible, the word used in context. Part of the benefit of flashcards is the close attention you pay as you make the card.)

Where to get words to study for the EAS exam? Take a look at the Test Frameworks – here :

Pile up your index cards, settle in and start reading. Do you see words you don’t know? Write it on a card, on the other side copy out the sentence or phrase it appears in. Later you’ll look this word up.

  • Do you see any patterns in the exam itself?

The EAS (the unrevised version, which is still valid as of this writing – Feb, 2018) offers rewards for those who find the pattern in the 3 Constructed Response tasks (and btw, Constructed Response means the Written Response to a Prompt). Take a look at the study guide for the EAS exam. You can find it here:

When you are ready to look at the prompts for the writing you will have to do, take a close look at questions 5, 10, and 15. Notice anything?

There is a pattern to these prompts, and knowing that pattern in advance gives you a book’s worth of information on what and how to study.

Did you find the pattern? If you need a hint, let me know – but try it on your own first.

The NYSTCE: One View

I’ve been working with students who are studying for the NYS teacher certification exams for several years. When I began, the older exams (LAST, ATS-W, and many Content Specialty Exams (CST)) were on their way out, soon to be replaced by the ALST, the EAS, and those many new CST exams.

The implementation of the revisions to the exams has been fraught. Exams have been launched and then safety-nets put into place, deadlines set and moved and moved again. The ALST, which proved itself to be an unreliable instrument, was pulled, and this reasonable response to a bad test was greeted by an outcry – from those who should have done their homework and therefore known better – that NYS was watering down its standards. To the contrary, the only standard of NYS that should have been in question was the standard they hold the tests to. The ALST was a sham, in my informed opinion, and it was finally shown the door. But not before many, many students in NYS spent a collective thousands of dollars on it. That draining of our students’ resources is what should have launched an outcry.

That’s (part of) the messy backstory. There was a plan to revise the EAS exam, which, in my opinion would be unfortunate, since it was the best of the tests – and I define “best” as the one for which prepping for it was actually prepping for the profession, not just the exam. But, although it required students to read texts in multiple genre, analyze information for those texts (called ‘exhibits’), and compose an argument with a stance, reasons, and evidence, it was deemed as not testing skill in written argument and the plan was to rework it. Perhaps COVID-19 distracted NYS from this goal. Hopefully it buried the plan.

Through this all, students who hope to go on to be certified as K-12 teachers in NYS need to do their course work, complete their field work, and build their understanding, compassion and empathy for the students they will guide in their classrooms. Added to this full plate is the need to prepare for the exams. I want students to work hard to be better readers, writers, and teachers. I don’t want them to needlessly suffer over the NYSCE, and I do want them to practice a model of test-prep that helps them see that they can use a test for their own purposes: I want them to see that they can teach though the test rather than to the test.