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Columbia University Profs Raise Concerns About Certification Test

UPDATED

More that 30 professors at Teachers College, Columbia University have signed a letter saying they have concerns about New York's participation in the edTPA, a performance-based licensing test that will be required of new teachers as of May 2014.

In the letter, the professors outline three major areas of concern with the exam, which requires teachers to record and analyze parts of their instruction, among other things. First, the Columbia faculty raise privacy concerns, saying that having to get parents to waive their students' privacy rights and permit videotaping is "a lot to ask" and that it might "discourage both institutions of teacher education and the schools that work with historically marginalized populations from participating in teacher education," the professors say.

The edTPA website has more information about confidentiality on the test, but a link to a document with all the details is broken at the moment.

The professors also want more information about the qualifications and vetting process for the assessors who will be scoring the exams.

And finally, they object to a for-profit organization, Pearson, as the contractor for administering the test. "Having a corporation such as Pearson as the clearinghouse may result in a variety of issues. We are concerned that in a time of wide budget austerity in the public sector, limited resources are being diverted to a for-profit corporation," they write. (The exam's $300 cost is picked up by teacher candidates.)

The edTPA was developed by the Stanford Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, in partnership with a consortium of 25 states and the District of Columbia, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

UPDATED, Jan. 17, 4:30 p.m.: Although the CCSSO was an initial partner on the exam, it hasn't been involved in the effort for about a year, a spokeswoman said. No word on exactly why the group dropped out.

UPDATED, Jan. 19, 9:41 a.m.: Follow-up conversations with Stanford and CCSSO have solved the mystery. CCSSO was a partner on the exam until an exclusive contract between Stanford and Pearson to administer the performance assessment was signed. (CCSSO's internal policies do not allow the promotion of a single vendor's product.) Also worth noting here is that Stanford retains all rights to the exam and its development; Pearson is the test's administrator.

Four states, New York among them, have already committed to adopting the exam as part of licensing or certification. The test was piloted by some 120 schools and 7,000 teachers in spring 2012, and researchers are analyzing the results to determine whether it can be scored reliably and whether it is predictive of student achievement—i.e., that those who pass it on average help K-12 boost students' academic achievement. But many questions remain to be worked out, such as whether states will agree to a common cutoff score on the exam.

Teachers College isn't the first school of education to raise questions about the edTPA; last year, students and faculty at the University of Massachusetts also objected to Pearson's involvement.

As befits an institution famous for progressive approaches to pedagogy, there's a progressive-education flavor throughout the letter. At one point, the professors claim that "successful teaching is not the same as good teaching" and that "terms like success and good are dependent on context and culture," sentiments that certainly do seem to strike out at the purpose of the edTPA—or, for that matter, any exam that tried to measure those criteria.

UPDATED, Jan. 14, 5:18 p.m.: The New York State education department responds in this letter.

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