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By the Elite, For the Vulnerable: The edTPA, Academic Oppression, and the Battle to Define Good Teaching

by Adam W. Jordan & Todd Hawley - February 15, 2016

With this commentary, we add our voices to the rising tide of dissent and resistance to the edTPA. As teacher educators we want to highlight the ways that the edTPA and its proponents represent academic oppression against vulnerable teacher candidates. Additionally we provide resistance in the battle to define good teaching.

I hear that train a comin’

It’s rollin’ round the bend,

And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.

  —Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues (1955)


Maybe like the prisoners Johnny Cash was singing to, teacher candidates are expected to be quiet, serve their time, pay their dues, and move into a teaching career with credit for time served. We argue, however, that this narrative is flawed. We hear that train a comin’ in teacher education, it is rollin’ around the bend, and it is out of control. What’s driving this uncontrolled train? That depends on how you look at it, but regardless of the conductor, we believe the train is called edTPA and like Johnny Cash, we can’t be quiet either. With this commentary we add our voices to a rising chorus of resistance from teacher educators across the country (Au, 2013; Ayers, 2015; Dover, Schultz, Smith & Duggan, 2015a, 2015b; Greenblatt, 2015)—together we can stop the train before the damage worsens.




The rhetoric of social justice is pervasive in the academy and it is expected that teachers and teacher educators speak out about inequalities involving race, class, gender, and socioeconomic status. Clearly this expectation is a good thing, and has led to powerful changes in teaching and teacher education. However, when this rhetoric is just lip service, pre-service teachers and their students suffer—words without action do not equate to justice. Freire wrote that “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral” (1985, p. 122). There can be no clean hands among the stakeholders involved in instances of oppression and the processes that cause and perpetuate them. We want to spark discussion about how the edTPA was created by the academic elite and now functions to oppress vulnerable pre-service teachers—much like the prisoners Cash was supporting, pre-service teachers have little control over their circumstances, and are undoubtedly at the mercy of the academy. In order to pursue their chosen career, teacher trainees must do as they’re told and meet the requirements determined by those holding power. They are indeed in an oppressive situation. We present several issues that arise with the edTPA and its usage as a measure of effectiveness in teacher education programs in order to get our hands dirty. We offer these critiques not as close-minded criticisms, but as honest and transparent talking points intended to foster discussion. If we are going to allow edTPA to measure our candidates, and transform their visions of good teaching, we owe them our voice.






As new teachers develop a vision of teaching and learning as a task-based endeavor, the profession becomes aligned perfectly with modern efforts to evaluate teachers and students on standardized scales and checklist-type teaching measures. However, it does not support the idea of teaching as a complex, personal, and environment-based process. We posit that good teaching must be seen through a lens of time and space, not through a lens of task and product. Teachers must have the freedom to undertake the critical process of getting to know their students, differentiating their instruction, and making professional decisions based on both research and compassionate intuition.


As we persist with edTPA’s notion that good teaching is a series of tasks that can be measured on a Likert-scale, we perpetuate the notion that this is all good teaching is and can be. While veteran teachers may be at a stage in their development as educators to recognize the game of the rubric, new teachers are vulnerable to the mentality it engenders. We have to ask ourselves are we teaching for students or rubrics? The rubrics are what matter, despite their incomplete and often inadequate nature under edTPA.



Another major concern of edTPA is trustworthiness—there have been numerous reports of the harmful practices of the Pearson Corporation and outsourcing teacher educator judgment to a for-profit company (Ayers, 2015; Singer, 2014a, 2014b, 2015a, 2015b, 2015c). One of our major concerns with edTPA and Pearson revolves around its scoring process.

Pearson previously used three scorers to assess an edTPA portfolio, and the associated rubrics are scored on a Likert scale ranging from one to five. Multiple scorers were used to ensure that students were being fairly assessed. Though self-reported, edTPA released inter-rater reliability scores that when calculated using Kappa minus n to account for the small range in the Likert scale, the results were not too bad (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, 2013). Subsequently, on short notice students were told that their portfolios would only be scored by one scorer, but that they shouldn’t worry—if the first scorer graded them within a margin of the cut score, they would have their portfolio reviewed by a second reviewer and receive the average of the two scores. This seems to take care of inter-rater reliability as most people tend to agree with themselves.

The problem many students now have with edTPA is the same problem people have with most major corporations—we simply do not trust them. Pearson may have a valid reason for deciding to move to the new scoring model, but to our knowledge they have yet to share that reasoning with the people that are at the mercy of their scoring model, and that is problematic. Full transparency in the decision making process would make educational stakeholders more comfortable.




One of the most troubling concerns of widespread high stakes edTPA implementation through a task-oriented lens is that good teachers become afraid to accept tough student teaching placements. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that the best teachers are required in the most high-need areas—this is not a very complicated point. We need smart adaptive educators to teach students who bring a multitude of variables that negatively impact their schooling experience. New teachers are scared to teach in these places for fear of not meeting edTPA’s rubric-style expectations.


This mentality is neither novel nor unique to new teachers. As teacher evaluation continues to adopt Value-Added Measures (VAMs) despite warning from plenty of people—including those at the American Statistical Association (2014)—educators are becoming fearful of teaching in high-needs schools, and sadly that fear is warranted. Statistical reviews of VAMs show that only about 1-14% of the variability in student test scores  can be explained through the teaching variable. Plenty of other latent variables are impacting these scores including socioeconomic status, ability, and similar hard to measure items.


How can we encourage teacher candidates to immerse themselves in high needs environments knowing this development will make successful completion of the edTPA more difficult? How can we trust that the one scorer who is looking at teaching through a task-oriented lens will be able to consider all of the challenges a new teacher in a high needs area is facing? The truth is, we can’t. We wish we could, and there are surely justice-oriented edTPA scorers, but we cannot with certainty ensure students that their scores will not be negatively impacted when the nature of their teaching environments requires aspects of their teaching ability that are not measured on a rubric.




As a final critique, we wonder if we have lost sight of the forest for the trees? What message are we sending to teacher candidates when we place their worth as a teacher on a subjective scale with a score attached? Teacher candidates are not learning to think of teaching and learning in a holistic way, but rather in a segmented, task-oriented mentality similar to the nature of scoring on edTPA. Students begin to think more about strategies, and the task at hand, rather than focusing on their educational purposes and their students’ well being. They begin to think more about the wording of their formative assessment and less about why they are assessing to begin with.

As teacher educators, have we lost sight as well? Perhaps an even more difficult question is, since edTPA was created in the academy, is it even possible to have democratic discussions about its merits without being labeled an outsider? The critique of Dover et al.’s (2015a) commentary on the edTPA’s influence on teacher education programs is just one example. It is not a coincidence that as soon as their critique was published, The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education posted a condemnatory response (Adkins, Spesia, & Snakenborg, 2015). Colleagues should feel safe to critique issues of social justice—however, when professors and educators begin to critique an instrument they believe is oppressing their students they have been met with a myth buster document from edTPA (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, 2014). The conversation is not friendly, it is defensive, and that is problematic.




What if we considered a different approach to teaching and learning instead of treating edTPA as the only way to assess teachers? What if we did something wild, novel, or crazy? What if we trusted teachers and teacher educators to implement pedagogy that allows for the development of both a vision of, and the ability to enact, good teaching as part of their coursework, early fieldwork, and student teaching experiences? We do not need to outsource our goals as teacher educators to a third party corporation that employs individuals to watch twenty minutes of video clips from a stranger from a part of the country they may have never visited. We can do much better than this and should.




Adkins, A., Spesia, T., & Snakenborg, J. (2015, July 22). Rebuttal to Dover et al. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=18041


American Statistical Association (2014). ASA statement on using value-added models for educational assessment. Retrieved from www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf


Au, W. (2013). What’s a nice test like you doing in a place like this? Rethinking Schools 27(4), 22–27. Retrieved from http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/27_04/27_04_au.shtml


Ayers, R. (2015, November 6). Smacking down the opposition: edTPA advocacy in Illinois. HuffPost Education. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-ayers-/smacking-down-the-opposit_b_8490892.html


Cash, J. (1955). Folsom prison blues. On Folsom prison blues [7’ Single]. Memphis, TN: Sun Studio.


Dover, A. G., Schultz, B. D., Smith, K., & Duggan, T. J. (2015a, March 30). Who’s preparing our candidates? edTPA, localized knowledge, and the outsourcing of teacher evaluation. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=17914


Dover, A. G., Schultz, B. D., Smith K., & Duggan, T. J. (2015b, September 14). Embracing the controversy: edTPA, corporate influence, and the cooptation of teacher education. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=18109


Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.


Greenblatt, D. (2015). TPA—Taking power away. Education in a Democracy: A Journal of the National Network for Educational Renewal, 7, 103-134. Retrieved from http://www.nnerpartnerships.org/wp-content/files/Oct2015NNERjournal1.pdf


Singer, A. (2014a, May 14). The “big lie” behind the high-stakes testing of student teachers. HuffPost Education. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/the-big-lie-behind-the-hi_b_5323155.html

Singer, A. (2014b, June 18). SCALE and edTPA fire back!: Methinks they doth protest too much. HuffPost Education. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/scale-and-edtpa-fire-back_b_5506351.html

Singer, A. (2015a, May 7). “Funky monkey” and Pearson fail the test. HuffPost Education. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alansinger/funkymonkeyandpearson_b_7230340.html


Singer, A. (2015b, July 27). Another Pearson test fiasco in the making. HuffPost Education. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from



Singer, A. (2015c, December 17). Even Santa can’t save Pearson (mis)education. HuffPost Education. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/even-santa-cant-save-pear_b_8825820.html


Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity. (2013). 2013 edTPA field test: Summary report. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity.


Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity. (2014). edTPA myths and facts. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 15, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19461, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 2:56:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Adam Jordan
    University of North Georgia
    E-mail Author
    ADAM W. JORDAN is an assistant professor at the University of North Georgia, teaching special education courses in the Early Childhood/Special Education program. His research interests include educational alternatives, public alternative schools, learner-centered education, and rural education.
  • Todd Hawley
    Kent State University
    E-mail Author
    TODD S. HAWLEY is an Associate Professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at Kent State University. His research interests include rationale-development as a core theme of graduate and undergraduate social studies teacher education, and the transformative possibilities of justice-oriented social studies teacher education.
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