By Jon Campbell
ALBANY - Student teachers, labor unions and some colleges are pushing back against a new portfolio-style exam for prospective educators, claiming it was implemented too quickly and is setting up students to fail.
Teaching hopefuls due to graduate in May are the first who will have to pass the new exam -- known as the education Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA -- in order to be certified.
Some unions are critical of the program, arguing the test has been rolled out too quickly and that student teachers haven't had enough time to prepare. They've likened it to the state's implementation of the Common Core, a set of more-demanding education standards, which has been roundly criticized by teachers, parents and lawmakers.
"Right now, we have this cohort of students -- 2014 graduates -- who have been caught in an experiment," said Jamie Dangler, United University Professions' vice president for academics. "It's been rolled out too quickly without appropriate time and clarification of criteria so programs could adequately prepare students."
Changes to New York's teacher-certification process were included as part of the state's application to the federal Race to the Top grant program in 2010. That application was ultimately approved, with the state receiving $696 million to implement its plan over eight years.
In 2012, the Board of Regents settled on the edTPA program, a three-part, portfolio-like exam developed by Stanford University. The edTPA requires student teachers to submit, among other things, a video recording of themselves teaching a series of lessons in front of a classroom and a lengthy written portion based on Common Core standards.
The state has spent $11.5 million to help both public and private colleges prepare for the new test, according to the Education Department.
"The changes we made across all preparation programs will assure that education program graduates are more effective teachers when they arrive in our classrooms," Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said in a statement.
Faculty and students at a number of colleges have raised concerns about the certification exam, which will apply to any student who graduates after May 1.
The labor unions say they expect high failure rates on the new assessment this year, pointing to a pilot program at SUNY Potsdam where they say nine of 18 students failed. They're pushing the state to grandfather in current seniors under the previous process and consider not using the edTPA as a requirement for certification.
Margaret Veve, coordinator of student teaching at SUNY New Paltz in Ulster County, said she personally believes the edTPA has had "an impact on the level of interest that students are taking in their learning."
But the implementation of the program, she said, has led to problems.
"For me personally and the work that I do, the implementation of it has been problematic because it has come so quickly and it has made people very, very anxious about what is it they have to do as student teachers," Veve said. "It's a double-edged sword -- it can be positive, but with the difficulties of implementing it, the benefits are not outweighing what I've seen so far."
Student teachers say they are having a hard time trying to figure out how to put together their portfolios and submit them to Pearson, the international testing giant administering the assessments.
"It's this edTPA that's putting all of this mental anguish on myself and my fellow student teachers," said Tom Pinto, a SUNY Brockport senior from Eastchester, Westchester County. "We've been asked to learn in weeks what we should have started to learn in freshman or sophomore year. It's absurd."
The state Education Department disputes that colleges didn't have enough time to prepare.
The department began developing its own assessment based on the precursor to the edTPA in 2010, and the program has been field tested for a year, Tompkins said. The exam was first supposed to be implemented by May 13 but has already been delayed by a year, he said.
The "reason we pushed back the timeline in 2012 is because the preparation programs knew the implementation date was approaching and they wanted more time to prepare," Tompkins said in the statement. "So the claim that they didn't know cannot be supported."
Dangler disputed the reason for the delay, claiming it was actually because Pearson, the test's administrator, needed more time to implement its system.
If a student fails the edTPA, they would have to consult with their faculty adviser to decide whether to retake a portion of it or the whole thing, according to the Education Department. The entire assessment costs about $300 to take.
More than 30 states are using the edTPA this year, but only two -- Washington and New York -- are requiring passage for licensing teachers.
When the passing scores were announced in November, state Education Commissioner John King said the assessment will ensure teachers are ready for the classroom.
"The edTPA is designed to measure a candidate's readiness to teach by assessing critical teaching practices designed to foster student learning -- practices like the ability to demonstrate effective planning, instruction, and assessment," King said in a statement.