Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Can edTPA Be Gamed?

Over at EdWeek, Steven Sawchuk is asking the musical question, "Are New Teacher Tests Vulnerable to Cheating?" I look forward to other tough-to-answer EdWeek articles like "Will the sun rise in the east tomorrow?" and "Does the Pope avoid bears in the woods?"

The answer is, "Of course." edTPA (the "new teacher test" in question) is one more demonstration of the Law of Bad Assessment-- the more inauthentic the assessment and the more removed from what is actually being assessed, the easier it is to cheat.

edTPA does not assess an aspiring teacher's teaching skills. It assesses their skills in filling out the paperwork involved in edTPA. It assesses their ability to cough up a bunch of money to pay for the edTPA process. It assesses their ability to jump through the edTPA hoops in the exact manner preferred by the edTPA assessors.

All of these tasks are far removed from actually teaching a class. They are inauthentic measures of teaching skill, aptitude and knowledge, and they are all enormously gameable, and it was utterly and completely predictable, given the high stakes involved (will you get to be a teacher, or have you just wasted four years of your life and a buttload of money), that some business would emerge to help with that gaming.

Meet edTPA Tutoring. 

We can help you in any way you need to complete and pass your edTPA. We are a small company with dedicated tutors ready to work with you individually and confidentially to help you pass the edTPA. We have been in business for three years and we have a 100% success rate. 

The confidentiality part is particularly tasty. There's also a part about how "the Client will handle all video cutting as requested by the Consultant." In other words, these guys will help you edit your video for best effect.

The cost? $49.00 an hour, which is pretty manageable given how much is riding on your edTPA hoop-jumping festival.

Blogger and retired teacher Fred Klonsky has had many conversations and taken much flak for his comments about edTPA as it has sunk its fangs into Illinois, but he's been right all along.

edTPA is a crock and a swindle. I haven't studied it extensively; I don't need to because what I know is enough to indict it.

edTPA is the privatization of the profession. New teachers should be evaluated and certified by other teachers. Period. The system we have, where the gateway to the profession is guarded by state-level bureaucrats, is also a crock. But edTPA is worse, because on top of bureaucratic baloney, we have Pearson using the process to generate revenue, which means making sure they evaluate new teachers fairly and accurately is not their primary concern. The entry to the teaching profession should not be in the hands of a private corporation. I'm a reasonable man, but I can't imagine anything you can say that would convince me otherwise.

edTPA is ass-backwards. The correct way to evaluate teacher performance is to go watch the teacher work. As the supervisory body, it's your job to go find out how well the proto-teacher does the job. It is backwards to say that it's the proto-teacher's job to find a way to prove herself to you. It's an extension of what I say about assessing students. And that's because

edTPA is inauthentic assessment. Again-- there is only one way to find out if somebody can cut it as a teacher, and that is to go sit in their classroom and watch them work. Period. Seriously. I don't know why we even have to argue about this. If you want to hire a cakemaker for your wedding, you go taste their work. You don't have them fill out some complex forms and take pictures of the tools in their kitchen and mail the whole thing to somebody far away who isn't even going to be at the wedding.

edTPA is highly cheatable. The hallmark of inauthentic assessment is that it's easy to cheat, because you don't have to be good at what you're allegedly being judged for-- you just have to be good at the assessment task which, because it's inauthentic, consists of faking proxies for the real deal anyway. What it really measures is the proxy-faking skills.

There is one respect in which edTPA is an authentic task for our day and age in teaching. It confronts the proto-teacher with a basic ethical conundrum-- is it okay to cheat a bogus task in order to win the chance to do some actual teaching. As it turns out, this is a problem that most teachers in the age of Common Core and Big Standardized Tests face-- do we cheat our way around a bogus, pointless, anti-education obstacle in order to do some actual educating.

If someone is holding your career hostage, is it ethical to get past the hostage taker by any means possible?

Because, unfortunately, the Law of Bad Assessment has a corollary-- just as inauthentic assessment can be cheated by faking the required inauthentic tasks, it cannot be satisfied by the use of authentic skills. Being a really good proto-teacher with promise won't necessarily help you succeed with the edTPA process. Or to look at it another way-- not only is it easier to cheat to succeed, but it may be necessary to cheat. So what is cheating, exactly?

Congratulations, young proto-teacher, and welcome to the modern, ethically murky world of teaching.


  1. As a media coordinator who evaluates edTPA portfolios, I can say I think the portfolio is beneficial to the media coordinator candidates. Gone are the days when a school had a librarian who read stories and checked out books and did nothing else. We are required in most states to hold a master's degree in library science and must complete administrative duties as well as work with staff and students on research skills, data gathering and analysis, improving reading and writing skills, and much more. Although I do not know how edTPA works for a regular classroom teacher, I do know the feedback provided to media candidates helps them understand areas of improvement in order to be successful media coordinators. The candidates must go through a unit of lessons with a class, including assessment of knowledge and differentiation for students with disabilities or language needs and they must meet some difficult criteria. I don't think there is any "pay" company that could help a candidate in an unedited video of their work with students since the video shows them teaching their lessons to a class.

    1. Except that the edTPA applies to people who are already teachers, not just new graduates. Anyone from out of state now has to go through this, no matter what their experience and certification is. What if they aren't currently working in a school? What if the admin/parents out of state won't agree to the filming? It is not an easy thing to accomplish logistically, and one cannot even get access to the instructions until AFTER paying for the test. Many media specialists were teachers first, so they certainly know how to teach lessons. Sounds to me like you are advocating a process that you never had to go through yourself. It must seem like a great idea if you are exempt. I think that if new teachers (even those from out of state with lots of experience) have to do this, then older teachers should also have to to it in order to renew. If the objective is verifying quality and fitness, they should have not problem. Should be a total breeze, right?

    2. I wrote this a while ago, typos notwithstanding, I still think that NY teachers who were licensed prior to he establishment of these new tests should have to take them in order to keep their licenses, or else nobody should have to take them. Especially those high and mighty educators who feel the need to sound off about it. Why don't you all go through the process? Apparently there were so many people who couldn't pass the ALST (me not included, I passed with flying colors), that the board of Regents is eliminating the test. People couldn't pass it because it was *actually a valid test*. You had to go to a testing center, show your ID, have your fingerprints scanned, sit down, and read and write the test yourself. With the edTPA, anyone could do the writing portion. Theoretically, anyone could teach the lesson in the video. The evaluators don't personally know these people. It's very telling that a significant number of college students who passed the edTPA could NOT pass the ALST. I would imagine it would be a similar story if NY educators who were licensed prior to the establishment of these tests had to take them. And teachers who are already licensed out of state? Still makes no sense to make them do all of this testing. Last I checked, NY was nowhere near the top of the list in educational outcomes. Teachers from other states may well be better prepared than those just starting in NY. And NY is not going to get them given this absurd testing. And BTW, I'm against all the testing for K-12 students as well. I bet Ms. Stephanie Rous would gladly tell you how terrible high-stakes testing is for her students, while singing its praises for teachers. No doubt it's because supporting these tests is earning her some extra dough. Nothing speaks louder than $$$$$$$.

  2. Peter, it gets worse. See my latest post on Pearson's use of originality detection software which can hold candidates submissions hostage as they await a verdict:

  3. It's about money, completely useless procedure, trying to look scientific and the benefit for the teachers is ZERO. They should just ask for our money without all this effort for nothing. Reticulusuly difficult just to put through hell all teachers for no reason.

  4. How can I get the help I need? I am a teacher for the visually impaired - unable to pass the edTPA. I have been working in NYS for 5 years and now do not have a job and cannot get one because I failed the exam again for the second time. I have two masters degrees and am working on my doctorate. Who do I contact for help?

  5. I would also appreciate help with edtpa if someone could 🙏help

  6. Am currently trying to finish my edTPA and feel so validated after reading this. I am en experienced teacher making the move from college to high school...and I am STRUGGLING to complete this piece of shit. The edTPA is harder than anything I did for my masters degree!! I feel like this does not in any way reflect my competence in the classroom, rather demonstrates my complete incompetence with complicated paperwork. It is also maddeningly redundant. I have repeated myself so many times I cant even remember what the question I am supposed to be answering is asking.

  7. In response the original commenter who is a librarian evaluator...I just failed the edtpa for library media for the FOURTH time and I'd like to know what "feedback" you are referring to help educators improve? There is absolutely NO FEEDBACK given with the scores so how am I to improve my practice????? I get numerical scores and NO comments from the evaluator despite having to provide pages and pages of commentary. This whole process is beyond stressful and absolute bullshit. I have appealed and still get no feedback, just...score stands message. I have sat with the rubrics, using the EXACT language to fill out each section. I used VETTED lesson plans from common sense media. I still failed. I am working as media specialist, finished my masters program, scored high marks on the praxis...yet this ONE TEST is keeping me from certification. Schools can't get educators. I am beyond qualified, despite this ridiculous test, not to mention now out close to a thousand bucks.