A Question of Consent

The core of the edTPA assessment is a video submission of student teaching practice. As my students began working on gathering parent permission forms last week, I’ve been thinking about the extent to which permission isn’t informed consent. Yet edTPA feels a lot like research, which requires informed consent.

Honestly, I was a little worried about the permissions/consent process from the start. If you’ve ever done research in the NYC Public schools (or any schools), you know how hard it is to get IRB approval and then to get those consent forms back.

Over the summer, while discussing the matter of permissions with of our cooperating teachers, one mentioned that her school had all families sign the DOE Media Permissions Form and wondered if this would cover the edTPA filming. I was concerned about the DOE’s form, which specifies that it covers non-profit use only; in all the materials I have seen (and signed), it is very clear that Pearson (a for-profit company) is asking for all rights to the media collected through edTPA. While they claim that they will never publicly display the videos collected, they may use them to further develop assessments.

When I researched the practices at bigger schools of education, I found different approaches. Some schools allowed their cooperating public schools to use the DOE’s form, but they developed their own institutional form for charter and private schools. Other schools mandated that all schools use their in local permission form, and some schools switched from the former position to the latter after being counseled by their attorneys on the matter.

In the midst of my research, Commissioner John King sent a letter to New York State educational stakeholders to “introduce” edTPA (in October…?). In the letter he encourages P-12 school leaders to learn “how some schools and districts have modified videotaping permissions, when needed, to accommodate this new certification requirement.” This seemed odd to me, especially considering, as TC Facutly point out in this letter problematizing edTPA, the DOE does not permit doctoral students to record in public schools. Yet, suddenly we need to loosen up about taping in schools?

The way the permissions process is structured, the student teacher and cooperating teacher distribute and collect the forms that don’t explain to parents that their child is part of a high stakes test, nor that the video may be used by Pearson for further test development, which is research. It is also up to the discretion of the student teacher whether she will allow Pearson to use her materials for research purposes (see p. 4 of this document), a fact that I don’t see being communicated to parents anywhere. Maybe I’m picking nits, but when curricula are becoming increasingly test-driven and corporate test makers are making big bucks, I think we could all stand to stay vigilant, or at the very least, informed.

Every time I go into a school and have a conversation with students and teachers toward research and publication, I need to gain approval of the Institutional Review Board at my school. I must account for how I will gain informed consent from anyone participating in my research project. Informed consent is the process through which researchers explain any risks and benefits to their research population and inform them of exactly what will happen with the data. It is a central part of doing ethical educational research.

Informed consent doesn’t seem to be part of the edTPA process, at least in New York State. Is the fact that students are being used as research subjects in the edTPA assessment being obscured from parents? This feels like “shotgun permissions”: parents are being asked to sign first, and maybe find out what that permission is for later. If schools use the DOE’s media form as blanket permission for all media recording, including edTPA, parents may have no idea that their child’s classroom is the site where a high stakes test for teacher candidates is taking place.

Of course, the more detailed the permission/consent process is, the more inconvenient it is for our student teachers and their cooperating schools. I don’t want to create more work for them. In the end, schools whose principals signed off can use the DOE Media Form; other schools are using our Pratt SILS form. My goal is to follow the rules and respect the rights of students above and beyond the standards for doing such being communicated by the state or edTPA. Still, I am extremely uneasy about my role in this.

In order to achieve some balance, my co-instructor and I taught a class on informed consent to our student teachers. We watched videos on the Belmont Report, the Tuskegee experiments and on the informed consent process. We discussed their responsibility to their students as minors and participants in a research study that it not being fully explained to them or their families. Still, I’m not satisfied with my own efforts. Maybe next year we’ll read some Jaron Lanier and think about the ways these P-12 students are being used as labor for capital in these video assessments.

About Jessica Hochman

I am an assistant professor at Pratt Institute in the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) where I also coordinate the LMS Program (school librarians, for the uninitiated). I live in Brooklyn, NY.
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