Washington lawmakers are divided over an education bill that would eliminate a standardized assessment for student teachers that critics say is inequitable and unnecessary.
While the Senate passed the bill over the weekend, it’s on its way back to the House floor because it was approved with a new amendment that brings the test back in two years. And many aren’t happy with the change.
The original bill, House Bill 1028, would have permanently gotten rid of a state standard that requires teaching candidates to pass a standardized assessment called edTPA — the educative Teacher Performance Assessment — before they’re able to move into the workforce, said Zack Turner, executive director of the Washington Student Association, a student lobbying group which helped develop and advocate for the legislation.
Many Washington students weren’t able to take or pass the test this past year largely because a key part of the assessment requires students to film themselves teaching in a classroom, he said. While it’s unclear how many teaching candidates were trapped in limbo by the requirement, Turner said 600 had signed up to get alerts on the issue.
Many in the education community have voiced concerns about the edTPA for years, saying that it’s socially, economically and racially inequitable and has become even more inaccessible since the pandemic began. Students pay $300 every time they take the test, which Turner says can be a “big barrier,” especially if a student needs to take it more than once. He also said students of color, particularly those who aren’t native English speakers, fail the test at higher rates.
If even the amended version passes, “I will get my teaching license — I’m over the moon about that,” said Katherine Mijal, a first-year teacher at all-online Washington Connections Academy. She applied for an emergency teaching certificate in a panic after she graduated from the University of Washington, Tacoma last year.
She continued: “But allowing a student population not to complete it due to logistical issues doesn’t address the fundamental inequities of the edTPA in the sense that it is an educational and racial barrier to students and student teaching candidates able to become teachers.”
Eighteen states, including Washington, require that students pass the test before they can start teaching.
The amended bill was approved 25-24 Saturday night, although because it has changed so much, it’ll return to the House for approval before heading to the governor’s desk, Turner said.
If the House approves the changes and Gov. Jay Inslee signs it into law, all students who graduate between 2019 and 2022 will be exempt from the edTPA requirement because of logistical challenges the pandemic created, Turner said. In that sense, he added, it’s a win.
The new amendment, however, means students who graduate after 2022 will still be required to take the test. If they fail it within a certain margin — scoring between 35 and 40 out of 75, a passing score — they would be eligible to be reevaluated by their teaching program, which would look at other criteria, such as past coursework or mentor recommendations. The program could then approve the student for teaching certification even if they didn’t pass the edTPA.
“I get that people hate taking tests,” said Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, who introduced the amendment. “But as a parent with kids in the public school system, I take comfort in knowing we have these requirements.”
Mullet added that he thinks the edTPA is “the best way” to compare how well teaching programs are preparing candidates for the workforce.
Turner said WSA was “disappointed” with the new amendment.
“If you can fail the edTPA and still be evaluated by these multiple measures … maybe that means [the test] wasn’t necessary in the first place,” he said this week.
The edTPA, which was developed by Stanford University and is administered by Pearson, an education assessment corporation based in London, is normally finished in tandem with student teaching, when teaching candidates are placed in classrooms while they complete their degree.
Nathan Estel, the vice president of educator certification at Pearson, said Monday that the test is important because it “provides a uniform and objective measure of an individual’s readiness to enter the classroom” and was developed with input from teachers across the country.
As for the cost, Estel said Pearson offers vouchers that can cover the $300 assessment fee, which are distributed to teaching programs based on the size of the program. The programs then determine how to distribute them to candidates who qualify for the highest amount of financial need, a Pearson spokesperson said.
But the vouchers aren’t a reliable solution for students, Turner said. According to an October 2020 report from the Professional Educator Standards Board — a board appointed by Inslee that’s responsible for overseeing Washington’s system of educator teaching, certification and workforce development — Pearson only gave out 118 vouchers to teaching programs in 2020. Before 2020, 40 to 49 were being given out every year, the report said.
The University of Washington, for example, received eight edTPA vouchers in 2020, though more than 200 students were enrolled in its teacher education programs last year.
Advocates of the test stand firm in their belief that it’s comparable to other licensing exams, like medical licensing exams or the bar.
“This also allows the [board] to be able to ascertain how programs are doing in their preparation of teachers,” Estel said. ” … We’re also supportive of the multiple measures policy,” which he said allows teaching programs more flexibility and input.
While Turner said many Washington teaching candidates have been opposed to the test requirement since it was implemented in 2014, concerns intensified when the pandemic began because of the filming requirement and the fact that many schools stopped hiring student teachers.
Fortunately, he said, some students were able to get emergency certificates, which allowed them to start teaching in schools on a temporary basis, though they expire next June and can’t be renewed.
Noe Gomez, a student at Central Washington University approaching the end of his student teaching program in the Tahoma School District, said he was relieved to hear he would not have to take the edTPA if the bill passes. He had been working through the planning part of the assessment, which requires teaching candidates to map out each of their lessons.
“It has been stressful in the sense that I wish I was able to focus on my students,” he said last week before the Senate vote. “I’m constantly thinking about it. I also don’t speak English as a first language, so I struggle a bit to express myself when it comes to English.”
Gomez, 23, said he would normally teach about four hours of class every day, then dedicate seven to eight hours a day to his edTPA application. If the legislation is signed into law, he said, he’ll be able to graduate from his teaching program in June without the stress of the test.
Still, more needs to be done to diversify the state’s pool of teachers, said Ali Holmes, who’s teaching in Bellingham Public Schools. She pointed to a figure from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that showed during the 2019-20 academic year, 86.8% of Washington’s teachers were white.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not progressive movement,” she said. “I’m pretty disappointed in the senators who weren’t able to think of other equitable solutions for qualified teaching candidates. … I’m feeling that there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Most states don’t require students to pass the edTPA, and a handful got rid of the test in recent years, including Georgia.
“Becoming a teacher is really, really hard,” Turner said. “You have to really want to be a teacher. It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of testing, it’s a lot of courses. These are people who are passionate about their communities. … [They] are qualified and they’re ready to do this.”