David DeMatthews and Christopher P. Brown
The Texas State Board for Educator Certification recently adopted a new teacher certification exam, called edTPA.
On the surface, this is something the state should be applauded for – increasing the quality of the teacher workforce is a noble idea. But there is a major problem. The timing and negative potential impact of this new exam on the teacher workforce is out of step with the realities of Texas public schools, particularly in the midst of the pandemic.
The goal of any teacher certification exam is to ensure the state has quality teachers in every classroom, but our state has struggled to ensure an adequate supply of quality teachers even before the pandemic. This has disproportionality affected urban and rural schools with higher percentages of low-income students and students of color.
Adding a new exam will not improve this longstanding problem. In fact, one could argue it works against the state’s goals.
Any certification policy adjustment must consider the state’s demand for a supply of quality teachers. A commonsense policy during a pandemic and surge of teacher resignations would be to lower the cost of teacher certification, which could be a barrier for qualified applicants. Yet, the adoption of edTPA would increase financial burdens on aspiring teachers because the exam costs $311, which is on top of other fees or alternative teacher preparation programs.
In fact, an aspiring teacher completing a bachelor’s degree can now expect to pay more than $700 in fees to cover the certification exam and other needed things such as fingerprinting.
The new exam also could reduce the supply and diversity of the teacher workforce in another problematic way. A recent study of edTPA in Washington state concluded that Hispanic teachers were three times as likely as their peers to fail the exam, which would mean these candidates would either take the test multiple times at an added expense or would be unable to receive a certification.
At the very least, this should raise concern about potential testing biases, especially in a state where nearly 30% of teachers identify as Hispanic.
Additionally, the new exam is not sensitive to the pandemic realities of Texas classrooms. Candidates taking the edTPA are required to submit video recordings of their instruction in classrooms with students. To record students, candidates must collect parental consent, which adds to the burden of parents and mentor teachers in an already stressful time. No teacher or administrator needs more work right now. And absenteeism due to COVID-19 infections, which has resulted in significant disruption to teaching and learning, adds more issues.
The edTPA was designed by a group of highly trained Stanford University professors and experts. We imagine they too would question the efficacy of a high-stakes exam relying on such an unpredictable and disrupted classroom environment.
Only 18 states have adopted this exam, and some already have done away with it due to implementation problems. Texas should consider this. Moreover, researchers have been cautious to draw any broad conclusions about the predictive validity of the exam – the extent to which the certification will result in improved student achievement outcomes for students. So, why would Texas decide to implement this amid a pandemic and without clear research to suggest it will positively affect the teacher workforce?
As education researchers, we are not sure. At a minimum, the state should delay any decisions on edTPA for a few years until after the pandemic subsides. Instead, policymakers should consider other interventions for improving the teacher workforce such as waiving the cost of teacher certification exams, raising teacher salaries, and supporting districts with substitute teacher coverage so teachers do not need to be overwhelmed with covering multiple classes when a colleague is sick with COVID. This is the type of support teachers need.
There was no need to move forward with edTPA under these conditions, and the state should rethink the decision. Instead, Texas needs commonsense policies to fill teacher vacancies, support the current workforce, and retain teachers who are increasingly looking to exit the profession.
David DeMatthews is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and Christopher P. Brown is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, both at The University of Texas at Austin.