Today’s NYT features a piece by Michael Winerip on Ed students at UMass protesting a pilot program for an outsourced performance assessment to be used for teacher certification. Developed by Stanford University and Pearson, the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) would require teachers to submit a portfolio of their teaching experience, including lesson plans, student work, personal reflections, and a video of their teaching. The UMass students are concerned about the corporatization and standardization of what is traditionally a personalized process of evaluation; as Winerip quotes Barbara Madeloni, “This is something complex and we don’t like seeing it taken out of human hands. We are putting a stick in the gears.”
The TPA, which New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington have already committed to adopt, fits with a growing trend of standardizing education nationally. If we want common core standards nationally, isn’t it logical to have a national certification process as well? The TPA also seems to prioritize teacher practice and development over the mere theoretical and content knowledge required by tests like the PRAXIS, which remains a pillar of the certification process in most states. In that sense, performance-based certification assessments seem to be another example of progressive reform.
But the practical implications are more complicated. States that implement the TPA and similar systems for certification will actually create a hurdle for “fast-track” and alternative certification programs.
The TPA features the Teaching Event, focusing on student-teaching experiences over a 3–5 day learning segment with a class of students. Throughout the learning segment candidates organize and submit evidence of their teaching (e.g., video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, teacher assignments, daily reflections) to create their own personal Teaching Event portfolio.
All teachers, then, would need to be in a position where they can have a 3-5 day “learning segment” with the same group of students. That is not difficult if a teacher has a traditional student teaching placement. But it is not something that can be easily set up independently, without the help of a college or university program. Where does that leave the increasingly popular alternative/fast-track certification programs such as Teach for America? Though the TPA is presented as a progressive, forward-thinking reform, I fear that it will have the effect of further insulating the teaching profession and blocking smart, motivated people from entering the classroom.
Don’t get me wrong. I certainly advocate using multiple metrics for evaluating teachers, and I really like the idea of using multiple sources of data–particularly student work–as part of that evaluation. But any step that further closes off the teaching profession is the wrong one. I would rather see the TPA used as a way to evaluate current teachers instead of as a further hindrance to certification.