Speaking Out Against the edTPA
As educators, we know that too often standardized exams and high stakes assessments reflect our educational system’s white cultural biases and they in effect hold back students and educators of color. The COVID-19 pandemic, since it has kept educators out of classrooms, has created even more barriers to completing these assessments, exacerbating the problematic challenges with our exam-based systems. The edTPA requirement for early career educators is one of the high-stakes exams that can have a discriminatory impact on educators of color.
For the last six months, a group of talented WEA leaders has been working with the Professional Educator Standards Board’s Educator Assessment System Work Group to try to dial back the high stakes edTPA requirements and find additional pathways for early career educators. WEA’s position is that Washington state needs to eliminate the edTPA requirement, period. Sobia Sheikh, Taylor Nakamura, Rana Nakkour, and Daniel Harada brought that position and their experiences to the table at the Work Group to find new alternatives to high-stakes testing. The recommendation they developed creates new alternative pathways to full certification that would help mitigate the discriminatory impact of the edTPA.
“What becomes obvious is that the edTPA standardizes a single story. It says that teaching is a process that has very narrow parameters, and those parameters uphold the cultural tenets of White Supremacy,” commented Sobia Sheikh, a math teacher at Mariner High School in Mukilteo. “It’s hard to imagine conversations around culturally sustaining pedagogy when we have a teacher preparation assessment process that is culturally limiting. Removing edTPA doesn't remove rigor; it increases the scope of our learning experiences as aspiring educators.”
When COVID hit, the problem with the exam got worse. Once schools closed it became impossible to complete the exam requirements. Those educators who couldn’t complete the exam were issued emergency certificates instead of full teaching certificates. While our local union contracts treat emergency certificated educators, their income, and their seniority the same as other teachers, it’s unfair that these teachers couldn’t complete the process and join their colleagues in the ranks of having a residency certificate. And with school models not yet determined for this fall, student teaching placements are uncertain and thus meeting edTPA requirements could be impossible. Legislative action is needed.
“When we discuss equity and systemic issues, we are talking about issues that are gatekeepers for marginalized communities,” said Sobia. “The EAS committee talked about alternative pathways and those pathways are being created so that it reflects the experiences of aspiring educators of color and candidates with special needs. That is really only putting bandages on the problem rather than addressing the root issue- the idea of standardizing teaching as a profession.”
On July 17, the PESB is considering a new regulation informed by the Work Group that would allow them to establish a pilot program for the edTPA. Candidates will still have to take it during their student teaching experience, but if they do not reach a passing score, their preparation program will be the final determinate as to whether they met the standards.
“We need more educators and more quality educators,” said Daniel Harada, a fifth grade teacher at Wildwood Elementary in Federal Way. “There’s a lot of work to be done to remove the barriers to becoming an educator, and the edTPA is one of them. No matter the outcome tomorrow there’s still work to do.”
Our voices and our advocacy make a big difference. The leaders on the Work Group made the regulatory changes possible. And if we want to eliminate the edTPA entirely, we need to elect pro-labor, pro-education candidates and then make our voices heard in the next legislative session. Ballots are arriving now – make sure to vote!