Assessment Anxiety: The Medium-Message of edTPA

As the spring term draws to a close, I look back on a year that I will probably remember as The Year of edTPA Anxiety. At this point, much ink has been spilled and many videos have been produced that explain why edTPA is harmful to teacher education, and to the teaching profession more generally. Some of my highlights: Alan Singer of Hofstra University, has been a consistent critic of edTPA’s implementation and Pearson’s involvement in New York State education practices and policies in both P-12 and higher education. Alexandra Miletta describes inconsistent messaging by NYSED and SCALE about peer editing on the assessment; she also provides a very comprehensive critique of its implementation.  Joette Stefl-Mabry organized the school library program coordinators across New York State to write a letter to our state legislators describing the problematic impact edTPA had upon our students.

In March, concerned faculty, teachers and teacher candidates gathered at Barnard College for a critical discussion of edTPA. My testimony is here, along with many other powerful voices including the outspoken Barbara Madeloni and students such as Maeve McNamera who spoke out about edTPA’s impact on her experiences as a student teacher. Powerful testimony was also given at the April 30th hearings before the New York State Senate, bravely organized by Deborah J. Glick.

In my talk at Barnard, I spoke of the way that edTPA has turned me into middle management (and yes, I underscored this point with a LOLcat slide). All year, edTPA has been heavy on my heart. Every day, I recruited much cognitive dissonance to support my students through an assessment I was barely prepared to scaffold for them (having received draft prep materials less than six months before the test, and then the final edition a couple days before classes began) and that I grew to object to on a number of ethical and pedagogical grounds. Here are some of the lessons I have learned from our edTPA process, about what high stakes assessments really teach our teacher candidates about how their work is viewed and valued through the lens of this high stakes test.

EdTPA’s most profound outcome: anxiety. edTPA threaded anxiety and fear through the student teaching experience for both me and my students. Not only did it damage the relationships I had with them (no longer was I a trusted advisor, I was the delivery mechanism of the edTPA process), it polluted the culture of our student teaching seminar and the placements. Instead of developing rapport with students and teachers, my candidates were scrambling to obtain permission to video tape them. Instead of feeling safe to make mistakes and ask questions, my students were reminded of “acceptable kinds of help” on edTPA and were concerned with teaching a perfect lesson. This was unduly stressful for all.

I don’t want to suggest that it is not valuable for teacher candidates to write unit plans, critically assess their teaching and have it assessed by others, and reflect upon that experience. To the contrary, I think this is terribly important. However, when you packaged this experience and deliver it in the form of a high stakes test, it become a very different product (and as an assessment from Pearson, edTPA is certainly a product). Good teaching involves reflective practice, and it takes time to get there. Both time and practice, important ingredients to good teacher preparation programs, are stolen by edTPA and replaced with anxiety and fear.

EdTPA is demoralizing to teacher candidates. What is demoralization? Doris Santoro summarizes it quite well in this piece, where she notes that demoralization occurs when one can no longer access the moral goods of their work. I see demoralization of teacher candidates as perilous: not only does edTPA deny them mentorship, true reflective practice and support that they should be gaining from their student teaching experience; they are also entering the profession at a loss. (perhaps this demoralization is  preparatory for the vilification in the media that teachers, and school librarians in particular, will face in the field?).

Furthermore, as Peter Taubman has noted in his critiques of edTPA, teacher education is a crucial site for the candidate’s development of teacher identity as a subject. How can a teacher candidate do this when she is being objectified by a standardized assessment? How can teacher candidates learn to develop good relationships with colleagues and students when that relationship is being mediated by a decontexutlaized multinational corporation’s assessment that is not being locally assessed?

edTPA: The Medium is the Message. And the message is: worry. Since this semester I am teaching an Instructional Technologies course, I’ve been reading media theory, which frames this part of my thinking. As Marshall McLuhan so famously quoth, the medium is the message (and forgive me because this is a pretty basic reading of that powerful idea). At its core, edTPA is a high stakes test; it is not a curriculum. It is not a modality for reflective practice. What does this medium communicate to our teacher candidates? The message, loud and clear, is: worry, because you are set up for an impossible task. Teacher candidates must be good enough to succeed in the field before they’re done with their graduate study, or with student teaching. The message is that teachers live under constant scrutiny and surveillance. It starts with edTPA in graduate school and continues on as vilification in the media throughout one’s career.

We absolutely need a better messages for our teacher candidates: ones that communicate the fact that we value teaching and teachers, that it IS hard work, but it’s work worthy of our respect. Messages that encourage bright young people to enter and STAY IN the profession (yes, I’m looking at you, TFA). Messages that recognize that teachers are human, and that they need to learn how to do this work, and yes, make mistakes sometimes, before we assess what they know.

A vital first step in sending this new message to teacher candidates requires that educators reclaim this conversation by insisting that we are experts in our own work. I’ve been inspired this year by the voices of some of my colleagues quoted above, to name only a few, and hope these messages may push back against anxiety, fear and demoralization that edTPA has left in its wake. If there is one positive outcome of the year of edTPA anxiety, it is the strengthening of this community of educators dedicated to doing this work.

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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4 Responses to Assessment Anxiety: The Medium-Message of edTPA

  1. Celia Oyler says:

    I cannot thank you enough for your work on this very important piece. You have put together so much here. Massive public service.

    • Jessica Hochman says:

      Thank you, Celia! That is so wonderful to hear. The TC faculty’s early letter also inspired me to speak up on this.

  2. Ruby Doswell says:

    I was left stranded with this student teaching like project. I graduated college already and just missed the deadline for the old tests. There is no one I can ask for help and am kind of following the rules blindly, hoping to pass this damn edTPA. It’s demoralizing and I feel embarrassed that I have to go back to a classroom where the teacher and I have already worked closely and do lessons I am just hoping to get right. I am looking for some help if you know anyone who can help me. I feel like I am literally the first person ever to have to do this. Thank you for writing this piece, btw, its helping me feel like I’m not going crazy but this is actually causing people stress.

    Ruby Doswell

    • Jessica Hochman says:

      Hi Ruby, I’m sorry you’re struggling without support. A good first step would be to contact the office of teacher education at the school that granted your degree. They may have resources or a program for folks in your position. And sounds like you are fortunate to have a cooperating teacher with whom you’ve worked before; that person is also a source of wisdom and support. I am rooting for you, too! Good luck!

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