Tested, part 2

Since my last post, I have been pondering this question: how can the state of New York maintain high standards for potential teachers without ruling out good candidates for the wrong reasons, and without handing over too much power to a for-profit testing corporation? My answer is simple: trust the programs that prepare teachers; trust the professors that teach and assess students; trust the mentors who oversee practicum experiences. These are the people who know the candidates, who see a complete picture of a candidate’s intellectual ability, teaching skills, and professional dispositions. These are the people who should determine if a candidate is ready for the classroom.

With this overarching principle in mind, I would reform the current situation in several key ways. First, I would continue with an online portfolio similar to the EdTPA. I believe this provides a very complete picture of a candidate’s abilities to plan, teach, and assess students. However, I do not believe this portfolio should be assessed by Pearson. Instead, each candidate could submit a portfolio to his or her own program and receive feedback from the faculty and mentors who know that candidate best. Alternatively, a statewide committee of educators could be formed to assess portfolios from across the state. I see no convincing reasons why the assessment of future educators needs to be outsourced to a for-profit corporation.

Second, I would do away with most of the standardized tests that candidates currently take. Instead, these concepts could be taught and assessed as part of teacher preparation programs. Take the Child Health and Safety topics, for example. As it stands now, prospective teachers madly study these online modules, take the test, and then promptly forget this important information. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have these concepts taught in the classroom, thoughtfully processed and assessed, and then retained? In my opinion, most of the concepts covered in the many standardized tests would be better addressed in this way.

If the state of New York wants to provide an additional hurdle to certification above and beyond graduation from an accredited program, why not create one single test? This test could measure a candidate’s reading, writing, and reasoning skills with a combination of multiple choice and constructed response questions. It could also cover a range of topics, from teaching students with disabilities to classroom management to child safety. Although one test could be time-consuming and stressful, I would have much preferred to take one test on one day rather than traveling the state for five separate tests in different locations, with different price tags, some online and some paper-based. Quite simply, the existing requirements are overkill.

In my streamlined vision of measuring the readiness of prospective teachers, the state of New York would require that all teacher preparation programs teach and assess certain key concepts. Then the state would step back and trust its colleges and universities to do so. An online portfolio similar to the EdTPA would be another measure of candidate readiness, along with a single standardized test measuring a variety of skills and knowledge across content areas. In this vision, teacher candidates would be held to high standards. However, their progress toward these standards would be judged primarily by their professors and their mentors, not by Pearson. I don’t imagine that the state of New York is going to follow my advice anytime soon. But I believe that the system would be rigorous, fair, and reasonable if they did so.

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