By Mark Rogers
Last year, my school hired Mike, a former IBM programmer, to teach Algebra II. He seemed like the perfect fit; he could bring his expertise into lesson-planning to engage kids. After all, he used math every day in his former profession. A mere two months later, Mike was gone. To anyone looking, the reason was obvious: During his educator preparation training, Mike was never expected to create lesson plans, did not get experience writing assessments, and wasn’t trained on how to differentiate to the unique needs of his diverse learners. It’s easy to blame Mike, but he is one of many who thought that our current educator preparation infrastructure would be enough to prepare him. His students bore the brunt of this systemic failure. I empathize with him and with the kids; I went through the exact same preparation process.
I teach Kindergarten in Austin, and I am a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Having attained six content-level designations for teaching across the K-12 spectrum via the alternative certification route, I now have some perspective on the licensure system and the associated requirements. Upon first earning my certification and entering the classroom, it became abundantly clear to me that preparing for the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) test, which consists entirely of multiple-choice questions, did not adequately prepare me for the classroom. It took a village of mentors, school leaders, and forgiving students to help me beat the odds for staying in this profession and become a highly-effective educator.
All teachers in Texas, except for foreign language specialists, are currently assessed on all content and pedagogy via multiple-choice exams. Such tests implicitly express to our teaching candidate pool that these exams are what will prepare us for success and that the ability to select the best response will make us fully qualified to assume control over a classroom of 25 or more young learners. As a teacher who went through this process, I know this not to be true.
On Friday, April 26, the Texas State Board of Educator Certification will vote on whether to adopt a pilot of edTPA, a portfolio-based assessment that is currently required or allowed for licensure by 19 other states. Under edTPA, teaching candidates submit a portfolio of sample lesson plans, videos of themselves teaching, and written reflections.
This portfolio-based assessment, in which teaching candidates complete qualitative tasks assessed on a rubric closely tied to future classroom activities and scenarios, would better prepare future classroom teachers. It is true that this assessment would increase the cost of becoming a teacher through higher assessment fees, but this will be offset by lower attrition rates and more teachers considering this field for a long career versus a one or two-year job that ends in frustration rooted in a lack of preparedness.
First-year teachers don’t deserve a licensure system that yields a disappointing classroom experience, and our students certainly don’t deserve frustrated and ill-equipped educators who thought a multiple-choice exam was their ticket to becoming an effective teacher. Instead, let’s adopt a portfolio-based set of assessment tasks that will ask our future teachers to consider a diverse range of pedagogical and content-based scenarios so that the licensure assessment matches what we’re asking of them in the classroom.
Mike’s students never gave him four multiple choice options where only one answer met their needs. Our certification assessments shouldn’t be built on that framework either.
Mark Rogers teaches kindergarten at Austin Achieve and is a 2018–19 Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellow.