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Teacher test to have safety net

Regents to allow alternative to certification exam

April 29, 2014
Updated 7:46 p.m.
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— The state Board of Regents unanimously voted Tuesday to give soon-to-be teachers their initial certification even if they fail a newly required exam, but some local students and faculty members are questioning the action.

Lynn Gelzheiser, interim dean of the School of Education at Union Graduate College, said the exam has a pass rate of more than 80 percent in the state, and at Union only one student out of 23 failed a portion of the assessment.

“I don’t think it’s too difficult because it is an untimed exam, so students can take as much time as they need to complete it,” Gelzheiser said. “The exam is simply looking for evidence of a teacher’s relationship with the students and information about instruction that they provide.”

The Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, requires students to submit video and written proof that they are prepared to teach children in the classroom. The decision to require the new assessment was announced two years ago, but union advocates say its rollout was rushed.

Students who fail the edTPA could still receive their certification if they pass the Assessment of Teaching Skills-Written, but come June 30, 2015, the edTPA would be required for certification.

Theresa Ryan, a student at Union, said she completed the assessment last month and passed. She said she has mixed feelings about the delay in using the edTPA for certification.

“The exam was brand new for our program and for students here, but our school handled it very well,” Ryan, 29, said. “We started working on the assessment in December through early February. It was definitely a longer assessment than I initially anticipated, but it went well.”

United University Professions, a union that represents State University of New York faculty, called for a suspension of the assessment, saying colleges did not have enough time to integrate the requirement. UUP President Fred Kowal plans to testify at the state Assembly Committees on Higher Education and Education public hearing today in Albany regarding changes in the certification process of state teachers.

“Maybe a delay will give colleges and universities more time to prepare students for the assessment,” Ryan said. “They pushed it so hard this year, and we all worked really hard to get it done, so I understand that the task could be difficult for some students.”

New York State United Teachers, a statewide teachers union with more than 600,000 members, released a statement Monday supporting a two-year delay of the assessment’s full implementation.

“This agreement is good news for students in teacher education programs who aspire to work in New York classrooms,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “It provides a safety net that allows student-teachers to use the traditional ATS-W test to earn the initial certificate they need to enter the classroom and begin their teaching careers.”

Would-be teachers who are graduating from college after Thursday have to take the exam, but are not required to pass it. Supporters say the exam is fair, as students face the more difficult Common Core learning standards.

“Our students regularly videotape themselves as part of professional development, and it’s not an unusual practice in education. I don’t think a two-year extension is necessary,” Gelzheiser said. “I think the direction is a positive one. Raising standards for teachers is a move in the right direction.”

Robert Bangert-Drowns, dean of the School of Education at the University at Albany, said he believes it was wise for Regents to postpone the new assessment.

“I think the assessment was a greater burden in terms of logistics because some people entered the program without the requirement, which is unfair for students who do have to take it,” he said. “It is a benefit for students to prepare for graduation, and the structure of the test is not very different from what students are used to. But it was a good move to postpone and revisit the exam in the future.”

 
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