ADERHOLD: To Address Teacher Shortage, Get Rid of State Qualifying Test

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David M. Aderhold, Ed.D, is the superintendent of schools for the West Windsor – Plainsboro Regional School District. This originally appeared in NJ Spotlight.

As we come to the end of a truly extraordinary school year, superintendents and school staff are preparing for the next. More than ever, we try to plan for all contingencies. In particular, we know we will be faced with an intensifying teacher shortage. This shortage was not caused by COVID-19, but the pandemic certainly has intensified it. The actions needed to help alleviate this shortage are in the hands of the state Legislature and state Department of Education. We need Speaker Coughlin and the Assembly to follow the Senate’s lead and eliminate the unnecessary and often discriminatory edTPA exam that deters too many qualified teachers from entering the classroom as certified teachers.

The Assembly must act now to get A-677/S-896 to the governor’s desk before the Legislature breaks for a summer recess. The Senate already passed the bill unanimously in March, recognizing the challenges schools and teacher prep programs are facing. The Assembly Education Committee moved the bill in May, but since then, the bill has languished for no apparent reason. The Assembly bill has 42 sponsors from both sides of the aisle, and yet we are running the risk that the Legislature goes on break without the Assembly taking the needed action of a floor vote on a bill that already has enough support to pass.

EdTPA was adopted by the education department in 2016 during the Christie administration, and many of us have objected to the test since Day One. This Pearson-developed test was layered on top of all the other requirements for teacher certification — and involved many steps and additional costs on top of the already rigorous teacher prep programs here in New Jersey. The edTPA assessment uses video recording and a written portfolio scored by a third-party provider. The assessment requires teacher candidates and provisional teachers to plan lessons, assess student work and submit a video recording of themselves teaching students. It has been cited by many in the New Jersey educational community as an unnecessary and redundant barrier to entering the teaching profession.

Teacher preparation is an area that has had very few concerns raised, and it is an area that our college and university partners conduct with great acumen. Under the pending legislation, teaching candidates would still have to complete a performance-based assessment, but the requirements would be established by each specific educator preparation program.

Solution in search of a problem

EdTPA was a solution in search of a problem we did not have, but in the ensuing years, it has created new problems. During the pandemic, DOE recognized that there was no way student teachers could complete edTPA and took the wise step to create a waiver for student teachers, allowing them to get certification without it. Removing this high-stakes exam was entirely appropriate during the pandemic as we struggled to keep both schools and teacher prep programs operational.

But now, two years later, we have evidence of what we have known to be true. EdTPA has no substantive value in preparing our teachers for certification and a successful career in the classroom. In fact, preliminary studies show that edTPA has a higher failure rate for candidates of color, which raises legitimate concerns that the test itself or the subjective — not transparent — scoring is discriminatory.

In March, nine leading organizations signed a letter in support of this bill offering detailed reasons for the need to eliminate edTPA. Education advocacy organizations are united in the request to remove this unnecessary burden. To date, it is mystifying that the Assembly has not taken action after the initial committee hearing. Furthermore, there have been no concerns raised about the content of the bill, which leaves educators wondering why there is a failure to see this bill across the finish line.

Time is of the essence. While the Legislature may not meet in July and August, school leaders across the state will be trying to find a certified teacher for every classroom. Students in teacher prep programs will be working to complete their requirements to start classroom teaching. Swift action by the Assembly and Speaker Coughlin is needed now. The Assembly must take action to eliminate edTPA, thereby helping educators prepare for a successful 2022-2023 school year ahead.

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