Just years after New York began requiring prospective teachers to pass a tough new exam, the state’s top education policy makers are lowering the score needed to enter the classroom.
The move could open the door to more teachers of color, who have failed the exam in disproportionate numbers since the state began requiring it in 2014.
The Board of Regents voted Tuesday to drop the passing score on the edTPA — a test that requires prospective teachers to submit a portfolio of work including a video of themselves teaching — from 41 to 38 starting in January 2018. The state will then slowly raise that mark until it reaches 40 in 2022.
Prospective teachers would also be able to clear this certification hurdle if they score two points below the passing score and meet other requirements, including earning a GPA above 3.0 and passing all other certification exams.
“Today’s action strikes the right balance by providing fairness to those seeking to become teachers, while maintaining some of the most rigorous certification requirements in the country,” said the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, in a statement.
Tuesday’s decision is part of an effort to again overhaul teacher certification in New York state. In January, the Regents unveiled a package of recommendations from a task force charged with making teacher certification less difficult and costly in New York. Those recommendations included rethinking the edTPA’s passing score and eliminating one required test, the Academic Literacy Skills Test, which the Regents did in March.
Those measures are a course correction following a state campaign, starting in 2009, to make it more difficult to become a teacher. The goal was to raise standards for those entering the profession.
The new rules, however, weeded out qualified candidates, particularly prospective black teachers. In a Chalkbeat analysis of teacher diversity, New York state officials said black test takers are nearly twice as likely to fail the edTPA as white or Hispanic candidates.
At the same time, state officials are trying to increase the diversity of the teaching workforce and warn there is a looming teacher shortage. State education department officials argued that Tuesday’s move maintains high standards while lifting a roadblock to more teachers entering the classroom.
When New York made the edTPA mandatory, the state picked one of the highest possible passing scores. (The edTPA’s website recommends states pick a passing score between 37 and 42.) Even with the newly lowered score, the passing mark in New York will still be among the highest in the country, said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa.
States typically set a cut score between 35 and 40, so even with New York’s phase-in period, the standards are still considered high, wrote Ray Pecheone, executive director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE), which developed the edTPA, in an email.
This score change is only fair, since the edTPA administrators are still working out kinks with the way the test is scored, argued Jamie Dangler, co-chairwoman of the state’s edTPA task force and vice president for academics at United University Professions, which represents SUNY employees. That’s largely because the test requires a fair amount of subjectivity when judging prospective teacher candidates, she said.
“It’s not ready for prime time,” Dangler said. “So to establish such high passing scores when there are real problems with the assessment itself was a disservice to our teacher candidates.”
In addition to the edTPA, prospective teachers have to pass two other certification exams, a content test and an exam designed to judge whether teachers have to skills to assist particular student populations, such as students with disabilities or English Language Learners.
With the high passing score in New York, the edTPA has proved particularly difficult to pass. Only about 80 percent of New York students passed the exam since it was introduced. The low passing rate prompted a “safety net” option, which allows prospective teachers to pass an easier, paper-based exam. Tuesday’s measure also extends the safety net option until next June 30.
The state on Tuesday also spelled out in more detail another option for students who failed the exam. Prospective teachers who score 36 starting in January 2018 and fulfill other requirements will be able to take their case before a panel to prove they have demonstrated the skills necessary to become good teachers.
Similar to lowering the passing scores, the Regents board argued the move does not affect the quality of teachers, but is a matter of fairness.
“The multiple measures is not a walk in the park,” Cashin said. “But it’s more reasonable than the cut score of 41.”
The chart below shows the new schedule of passing scores for the edTPA. (MMRP stands for Multiple Measures Review Process.)