Cart before the horse: edTPA in Texas
Educator Preparation | Certification TEA | Commissioner | SBOE
Date Posted: 4/20/2022 | Author: Andrea Chevalier
“Cart before the horse.”
“The train may have left the depot before anyone knew the train was going to leave.”
“Starting on the wrong foot.”
“Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
These were phrases used by State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) members to describe edTPA when it was initially brought up as a proposed replacement for the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) exam required for Texas teacher certification.
Administered by NCS Pearson Inc., edTPA is a nationally developed performance assessment used at the end of an educator preparation program (EPP) in which educators complete multiple tasks and submit video to an outside reviewer. (Find more on edTPA in this peer-reviewed study of its impact on candidates.)
The way edTPA was rolled out in Texas has caused just about as much consternation as the policy proposal itself, which is up for a final SBEC vote at the end of this month. To appreciate why the move has sparked so much upset, it’s helpful to understand how we got from point A to point B.
Spurred by the discussion of whether a new Early Childhood (EC)-3 teaching certificate would be more meaningful than the existing EC-6 certificate, SBEC directed the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in March 2017 to take a comprehensive look at how the entire certificate structure could be improved to increase the effectiveness of beginning educators. Over time, the work would morph from plans to break up the EC-12 PPR into narrower, grade-banded exams to designs for a complete replacement of the PPR with edTPA.
In August 2017, SBEC members participated in a work session—a type of meeting that typically does not involve public input or result in formal board action being taken—to discuss a variety of topics, including the “architecture” of educator certification in Texas. During those conversations, TEA staff presented to the board members a “three-pronged approach” to redesigning teacher certification.
One element of the approach envisioned by TEA, multi-tiered licensure, was originally modeled by the Texas Teacher Preparation Collaborative and presented to SBEC in December 2016. It eventually morphed into multiple certification changes, such as a new intern certificate, which requires passing only a content pedagogy test, and the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which created tiered designations for teacher certificates.
Another strategy of the original plan entailed grade-banding the PPR standards. As background, in 2013, Texas educators developed standards for all educators, which are the basis of the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) rubric used by most school districts to evaluate practicing teachers. These were codified in 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 149 §149.1002. In 2017, TEA convened educator advisory committees to review the standards to prioritize those that reflect what beginning educators should know and then narrow them into EC-3, 4-8, and 7-12 grade bands. Round Rock ATPE member and 2012 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe was an advisory committee member.
As TEA staff expressed in mid-2017, the future direction of the PPR standards development process would be to convene an educator committee to work with the testing vendor and TEA to develop a corresponding test framework for grade-banded PPR tests. However, based on conversations with those who served on the 2017 educator advisory committees, it doesn’t appear that further steps were taken in educator-driven PPR test design. By the end of 2017, the work had produced new standards but no new tests (as we still have the EC-12 PPR exam). Over the next few years, the state seemed to move even further away from some of the initial ideas about teacher certification redesign once edTPA took center stage.
The third prong of the TEA-recommended approach to teacher certification redesign was to implement a performance-based assessment. At the time, SBEC was already redesigning the principal certification exam to reflect newly adopted standards and include a mix of constructed-response segments, multiple-choice questions, and performance-based assessment. To accomplish this, TEA had convened an advisory committee of Texas principals and principal educators to provide input on the new test framework, finalize the test design, and review test items.
During SBEC’s August 2017 work session, TEA cited high passage rates on the PPR exam as an impetus for moving to a performance assessment for teacher certification. In those discussions, edTPA was briefly listed as one example of a performance assessment. However, SBEC members would not formally discuss performance-based assessment or receive substantive information about edTPA until a year later.
Shortly after that work session, TEA published a Request for Proposal (RFP) in September 2017 to solicit bids from a new testing vendor for the state’s educator certification testing needs. Applicants were asked to propose a performance-based assessment or constructed-response assessment to replace the PPR. Proposed assessments were to reflect the new grade-banded PPR standards, the Educators’ Code of Ethics found in SBEC rules contained in 19 TAC Chapter 247 §247.2, and other relevant standards or rules appropriate for new teachers to know. The Code of Ethics is a set of professional standards educators must abide by that are enforceable by SBEC (i.e., SBEC can sanction an educator’s certificate for not following the code).
Over the next year, the state’s RFP process resulted in a somewhat silent move toward edTPA without feedback from the education community. Neither SBEC members nor other education stakeholders learned much about edTPA until the board held another work session in August 2018. It was during that 2018 work session, again without any opportunity for public testimony, that TEA presented SBEC with the outcome of its year-long internal process for issuing a new educator testing contract. Pearson was shown as an awardee of the TEA contract with the intention of launching its edTPA exam here in Texas.
Soon thereafter, a discussion item on the agenda for the October 2018 SBEC meeting presented a timeline to require edTPA for educator certification candidates by the 2021-22 school year. The testing contract award to Pearson and a clear intention to implement edTPA made it seem like eventual formal adoption of edTPA was a done deal, or inevitable at best.
Many stakeholders were blindsided by the agency’s enormous and abrupt decision to replace the PPR with edTPA. At the October 2018 SBEC meeting, EPP representatives expressed concerns about being excluded from the discussions about the testing vendor RFP and the state’s decision to move to a performance assessment. In response, TEA staff said the internal nature of the RFP process is “closed-door” and doesn’t allow for much stakeholder input.
With the exception of the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing seemed to slow down TEA’s insistence on switching from the PPR to edTPA. After the staff’s presentation of the agency’s edTPA rollout plan to SBEC members in October 2018, there was little opportunity for public discussion among stakeholders and SBEC members. Only two meetings, one in December 2018 and another in February 2019, provided the public with a chance to weigh in before the formal rulemaking process to replace the PPR with edTPA took off.
At the December 2018 SBEC meeting, several board members revealed their frustration with the agency’s approach to edTPA. Ryan Franklin, serving at the time as TEA Associate Commissioner, apologized on behalf of TEA to SBEC, saying the agency wanted to “acknowledge and own the ineffectiveness of our communication and stakeholder engagement up to this point,” adding that TEA “made the mistake of starting publicly at the buy-in phase.”
The apology did not quell concerns about the direction TEA was taking. In her final meeting as an SBEC member, the late Dr. Susan Simpson Hull warned the board in December 2018 not to “put the cart before the horse” and force high-performing EPPs to “go backward” by conforming to the requirements of edTPA. Dr. Hull also suggested that the board consider tying T-TESS to certification via a constructed-response PPR, a sentiment shared by multiple other SBEC members.
Despite testimony and concerns, the few SBEC discussions leading up to formal rulemaking focused on what implementation of edTPA as a certification exam would look like, not whether it should be implemented. Public witnesses at SBEC meetings who supported using edTPA for certification testified that it would inspire positive curricular changes in EPPs, while those who were opposed to the change cited edTPA’s one-size-fits-all and nationalized curriculum, prohibitive cost, misalignment to Texas teacher standards, and failures in other states, as well as concerning findings about the validity and reliability of the assessment.
In April 2019, edTPA test-developers were invited to educate SBEC members during another work session on their assessment’s merits and structure. The next day, SBEC proposed formal rules to implement a two-year edTPA pilot program. Of course, SBEC meeting agendas are set weeks in advance; thus, the decision had already been made behind the scenes prior to the work session that TEA would go ahead with a two-year edTPA pilot. Before voting, multiple SBEC members called for a parallel pilot program exploring the use of T-TESS as a performance assessment, echoing feedback from stakeholders who also wanted a measure developed by Texas educators rather than a national product. Drs. Stacey Edmonson and Christina Ellis of Sam Houston State University did conduct a pilot over the next few years employing T-TESS as a performance assessment for educator certification candidates, but their project was not funded by the state.
In July 2019, SBEC gave final approval to rule changes authorizing the two-year edTPA pilot. Before the vote, several board members insisted that the parameters of the pilot be clearly defined in the administrative rules, including a specific expiration date in the fall of 2021. In 2020, the board approved a one-year extension of the pilot to account for challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, setting its new expiration date to Sept. 1, 2022.
Despite a growing chorus of concern from educators and EPPs, edTPA is still mostly moving along following its original multi-year rollout plan, with the exception that the three-year pilot pushed the original target date for full implementation to 2024-25. Just as before, it seems the pilot season of edTPA wasn’t meant to answer the question of whether Texas should adopt edTPA; it was merely intended to answer when and how edTPA would become mandatory for certification.
As we reported here on Teach the Vote, SBEC most recently met in February 2022 and voted to give preliminary approval to the transition from the existing PPR to edTPA for certification—even though the edTPA pilot has not yet finished or been fully evaluated. (Final approval will be on the SBEC agenda in April.) However, the vote wasn’t unanimous, and some board members still seemed uncomfortable with the transition to edTPA.
For example, in what would end up being his last meeting before being replaced on the board, SBEC Chair Dr. John Kelly praised the Sam Houston T-TESS pilot and requested that TEA “develop an alternative with the same timelines in mind as for the implementation of edTPA” and “find ways to devote a budget to that item, since budget has been given thus far to only the edTPA route.”
At the next SBEC meeting set for April 29, 2022, the board will discuss TEA-proposed parameters to be included in an RFP for an alternative performance-based assessment to edTPA, as requested by former chair Kelly. TEA’s approach boxes out options such as formalizing the Sam Houston T-TESS pilot because it essentially requires that RFP applicants have a turnkey exam ready for immediate use. It also fails to recognize many stakeholders’ recommendation of an alternative that uses performance assessments within the EPP curriculum rather than as a mandatory certification exam.
Following SBEC’s February 2022 vote to formally propose that edTPA become the state’s pedagogy assessment for certification, ATPE submitted public comments on the rule proposal to outline our top concerns and questions regarding edTPA:
- First and foremost, edTPA’s prohibitive cost ($311) and completion requirements are concerning in the face of a growing teacher shortage. Texas should avoid the mistakes of states such as Georgia, which eliminated edTPA in 2020 after finding it was a barrier to entry into the profession.
- There is insufficient data to indicate that edTPA would improve teacher effectiveness and student outcomes, as the pilot data was not publicly connected to teacher surveys, principal surveys, or student outcomes.
- Furthermore, edTPA puts students at risk because it does not assess the Texas Educator Code of Ethics, even though this was a required assessment component outlined in the RFP.
- Lastly, according to TEA data, 70% of newly certified Texas teachers in 2020-21 were from out of state or went through alternative or post-baccalaureate certification programs. Most teachers prepared through these routes receive special credentials, such as intern certificates or emergency licenses, which would not require the completion of edTPA before they enter the classroom as a teacher of record. This calls into question the effectiveness of edTPA at measuring day-one readiness of most new teachers.
On April 29, SBEC will take a final vote on (and likely approve) the rule proposal to replace the PPR with edTPA. Ahead of that meeting, ATPE and hundreds of other stakeholders have signed a letter to SBEC in which we recommend that performance assessments be embedded as a requirement within preparation programs rather than as a summative, high-stakes certification exam. If EPPs like using edTPA as a performance assessment integrated into their curriculum, they could continue using it. Other EPPs that already implement performance assessments that are producing great outcomes could keep doing what works. (Other stakeholders who wish to sign the letter to SBEC can do so using this link.)
After the April SBEC meeting, there will be one more opportunity for review of the edTPA proposal when the State Board of Education (SBOE) meets June 14-17, 2022. By law, all SBEC-adopted rules are subject to review by the elected SBOE, which can approve or reject the rule change before it takes effect.
We’ve seen what happens when we put the cart before the horse. When it comes to preparing the future teachers of Texas, let’s make sure we follow a process that helps us get things right.
Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from ATPE's lobby team on this important policy decision.
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Thank you for your incredibly detailed explanation to this process. It is, unfortunately, yet another example of how TEA is out of touch with the public it is meant to serve and SBEC should insist on exploring alternatives. One thing we do know, Pearson doesn’t need more of Texas’ money.