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Researching edTPA Promises and Problems Perspectives from English as an Additional Language, English Language Arts, and World Language Teacher Education

reviewed by Naomi J. Petersen - November 25, 2019

coverTitle: Researching edTPA Promises and Problems Perspectives from English as an Additional Language, English Language Arts, and World Language Teacher Education
Author(s): Pete Swanson & Susan A. Hildebrandt
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641132345, Pages: 314, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

Our teacher certification program participated in the pilot of the edTPA, a Teacher Performance Assessment designed by Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning ,and Equity [SCALE] and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education [AACTE]. Passing the three tasks of this assessment event became consequential for all new candidates seeking certification in Washington State, which required a further dimension than the standard edTPA resulting in a separate set of handbooks for its endorsement areas. I teach foundations courses that serve over 30 endorsement programs using 16 edTPA handbooks. In addition to the general orientation to the profession, I taught the course focused on classroom assessment. As a result, I became familiar with all those handbooks, focusing on what was common for successfully producing a portfolio that would earn a passing score. Besides reinforcing student-centered pedagogy, I emphasized the importance of deliberately avoiding bias and specifically teaching academic language. I used the edTPA itself, with its many rubrics, as a model for understanding the structure of outcomes-oriented assessment. The five focus questions for each task (planning, teaching, assessing) were solid gold for helping candidates understand that data collected from assessments must be used to interpret student learning and reflect on their effectiveness. Thus, I have been focused on the usefulness of the edTPA as a framework for teaching best practices, not the experience of actually completing the tasks or analyzing the data from the rubrics.

Thus, I was intrigued to read Research edTPA Promises and Problems and even more intrigued to realize that it would focus narrowly on three handbooks within the catalog that were most related to the topics I spent so much time advocating for: academic language and bias prevention. Interestingly enough, I often discouraged students seeking dual endorsements to use them because they duplicated the core principles common to every subject area, and I will admit I hadn’t thought through the ramifications of the edTPA structure from their point of view. Now, thanks to this book, I have. English Language Arts (ELA), English as a Second Language (ESL), and World Languages each have specific nuances that can be compromised by a standardized template, which prompted this book in the first place. Those disciplinary differences are of course the reason that each handbook is developed independently based on the standards of the professional organizations who developed them. There is nonetheless a universal template that assumes some core functions of effective teaching.

It is important to point out the difference from a test of content knowledge, which can be accomplished with selected and constructed response items in an instrument devoid of context. The edTPA is an extension of a longstanding argument that effective teaching cannot be measured or predicted based on decontextualized factoids and is why we teacher educators in Washington State, operating within the Washington State Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (WACTE), vociferously countered the reforms championed by the Business Roundtable to change the very structure of the profession to hold teachers accountable for student learning. We insisted that student teachers must demonstrate their pedagogical skills, which must be observed directly by qualified supervisors, and worked for a few years to refine the instruments those supervisors would use. This was ultimately replaced by the edTPA, which promised greater standardization and, of course, lucrative contracts for Pearson. While preserving the original concern that pedagogical skill must be demonstrated or performed, it created a new wave of concern regarding the expense to students of several hundred dollars and the effect on teacher education curriculum as programs scrambled to “teach to the test” (Lambert & Girtz, 2017) and state officials prematurely released data. These issues are addressed in the introductory chapter, written by editors Swanson and Hildebrandt.

The book is then divided into three sections. The first, “Multicultural Perspectives,” includes chapters on two of the handbooks (World Language and Secondary English Language Arts) and ways they are viewed by diverse stakeholders. Chapter Five is more general, focusing on developing beginning teachers’ awareness and skills with English Language Learners. The second section, Pedagogical Practices, also includes one chapter of general interest (that is, all candidates’ need to develop language) while the other four focus on the World Languages handbook. The third section is cleverly titled “edTPA (In)Compatibility,” thus revealing its interest in unresolved difficulties. One chapter addresses the TESOL handbook while the other two again address World Languages. It may be quibbling, but Chapter Nine, “Performance on the Instruction and Assessment Tasks of the World Language edTPA and Avenues for Further Research,” may have been better situated in the third section, for it raises some of the more cogent arguments for reform.

In Chapter Two, Russell and Davidson constructed an original instrument, “The edTPA Participant Perception Survey,” with five demographic questions, five open-ended prompts, and 25 Likert-style items that appear to have been thoughtfully designed according to accepted practice, including content validity checks by experts. It was administered as a pre- and post-test. However, there were only seven participants, violating nearly all protocols for reporting anything more than descriptive statistics of frequency. They nonetheless analyzed the heck out of what little data they had, reporting an impressive effect size (d = 2.98). The actual items of the instrument were not reported, but the need for empirical research suggests it may be a promising contribution to the field once validated. The findings were generally negative toward the edTPA as a measure of effective practice, although most comments addressed the experience of completing the tasks and commentaries, not the scoring related to rubrics. The criticism was anchored in the context of candidates having very little time to complete the required documents while the candidates who were not native speakers needed time to improve their language skills. Thus, there is a rival hypothesis that the participants were commenting not on the efficacy of the edTPA to measure their teaching but on their need for additional support in order to converse in English.

Time was also identified as a challenge in Chapter Thirteen by Olsen and Barske. They surveyed 11 STs and 10 CTs with an instrument composed of open-ended questions, which they carefully coded by reading independently, determining interrater reliability, and resolving.

In Chapter Four, Jourdain raises several issues regarding policy decisions that were not data-driven, such as New York’s unreasonably high cut score and the lack of data to use. This prompted her to share data from her program, a generous and brave gesture with a candid interpretation of the scores as well as the frequency of completing the edTPA at all. One of the most significant reasons candidates did not submit a portfolio was a cost of the scoring. This concern has certainly been echoed at my institution.

An edited volume reflects the expertise of its collected authors and their contexts. The 13 chapters are written by 25 authors, including the two editors, representing eight states (Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Wisconsin). Nearly all are faculty at state institutions. Only four biographies mentioned prior experience in K-12 classrooms. Six of the authors are doctoral candidates (four of whom coauthored one chapter), six assistant professors, six associate, three full professors, one lecturer, and one edTPA coordinator.

This prompts me to point out that the role of the edTPA coordindator is itself ripe for research given the greatly varied ways in which faculty are, and are not, oriented to the instrument. Many of the chapters devote considerable space to the efforts their program made to do so in hopes of improving scores and reducing anxiety, if not simply raising the quality of the teacher educators’ practice. A key issue involves the joint efforts of the teacher education faculty introducing theoretical frameworks and best practices with the intention that cooperating teachers will model them and field supervisors will coach them. There is considerable literature about the misalignment of these three stakeholders’ influence (e.g., Byers-Kirsch & Petersen, 2012; Garii & Petersen, 2005). While the edTPA could provide a common language and structure for their shared commitment, this volume confirms that it serves more to expose inconsistency, leaving the hapless candidate, like a pitcher paralyzed when trying to respond to every comment from player, coach, and crowd, to reconcile what may seem to a novice to be contradictory but which may well be a matter of volume.


Byers-Kirsch, J. & Petersen, N.J. (2012). Student teacher field supervisors articulate their role. Northwest Journal of Teacher Education, 10(1).

Garii, B. & Petersen, N. J. (2005). Adjuncts happen: Strong faculty; Weak system. Academic Education Quarterly, 9(2). Retrieved from http://www.higher-ed.org/AEQ/sum2005.htm

Lambert, K., Girtz, S. (2017). “How do you talk to a politician about the edTPA? Advocacy through inquiry and social justice around high stakes assessment.” In J. Carter &  H. Lochte (Eds.), Teacher Performance Assessment and Accountability Reforms: The Impacts of edTPA on Teaching and Schools. New York, NY: Palgrave/McMillan.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 25, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23142, Date Accessed: 12/8/2019 4:04:57 AM

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About the Author
  • Naomi Petersen
    Central Washington University
    E-mail Author
    NAOMI J. PETERSEN is a Professor in the Department of Curriculum, Supervision, & Educational Leadership at Central Washington University. She teaches and researches topics related to assessment and instruction as well as professional development and dispositions. Building on the legacy of special education inclusion, she cultivated the partnerships resulting in the launch of CWUs interdisciplinary Accessibility Studies Program which she now directs. Her most recent publications include Its about time: Practical strategies for fostering meaningful time management competence in online courses, Mobbability: Understanding how a vulnerable academia can be healthier and An assessment framework for embedding significant and sustainable activity-based, course-based, and program-based service-learning.
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