Texas education board rejects proposed replacement for ‘trash’ teacher exam

Texas’ State Board of Education unanimously rejected a proposal to replace the state’s multiple-choice teacher certification exam with a more rigorous test, even after the Education Commissioner described the current assessment as “trash.”

The board’s Friday vote comes amid concerns that the proposed new exam – called the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment or edTPA test – would be more expensive for candidates than the current one and could limit the teaching pipeline at a time when schools are already grappling with staffing shortages .

The State Board for Educator Certification voted earlier this year to recommend the edTPA replace Texas’ existing teacher licensing exam. If SBOE had approved the certification board’s decision, the edTPA would have been in place and required for all aspiring teachers in 2023-24.

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Though SBOE vetoed the proposal, big changes may still be coming to the teacher preparation landscape. Board chair Keven Ellis said he wants to bring groups together as early as Monday to chart a path forward. He said he cannot envision a future where the status quo remains.

“Do not consider a vote to veto this rule as a wood stake through the heart of edTPA,” the Lufkin Republican said. “For me, this is not the end of the road.”

Even as SBOE disagreed with the decision to replace the test, members and agency officials acknowledged that there were flaws with the current assessment. At a Tuesday meeting, Education Commissioner Mike Morath described the current 100-question multiple choice exam as “trash” and in need of a change.

Advocates of the edTPA argue the exam, which requires teaching candidates to prepare a portfolio of their work, would raise the standard for new educators. But critics pointed out that edTPA’s high testing fee could create a financial obstacle for candidates. Five states, including New York, have already abandoned the test.

Aicha Davis, D-Dallas, asked that before the board takes any action to reconsider the test, Texas leaders should talk with officials in those other states to figure out what went wrong.

Before they voted Friday, several board members said that the feedback they’ve received has been overwhelmingly negative. They noted that they didn’t feel comfortable moving forward without more support, especially given how stretched thin the educator workforce is amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“If there’s a fire and people are going toward the fire with buckets, you don’t stop and say, ‘Wait, are you a certified fireman? Have you taken this test and this, that and the other thing?’” Rebecca Bell-Metereau, D-San Marcos, said.

A number of public education advocacy groups opposed the change, saying edTPA, used as a final certification exam, will not help teaching candidates grow. The groups also criticized the “significant gap in edTPA pass rates between Black and white candidates,” according to a recent letter they sent to the SBOE.

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Both state board members and the groups who authored the letter suggested that components of edTPA or a similar portfolio model could be incorporated into educator preparation instead of being required as a test.

Agency staff have countered that Texas law would permit there requirement but wouldn’t allow the state to regulate the quality of portfolio submissions.

A TEA attorney described SBEC’s oversight of educator preparation programs as a “hollow donut of authority.”The board can set up a requirement of what candidates should learn and then test on it at the very end of the certification process, but can’t meddle into much of the inner workings of preparation.

Texas has a deregulated network of more than 120 prep programs that includes everything from four-year university programs to for-profit alternative certification programs that conduct the majority of their training online.

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A five-member subcommittee on school initiatives – comprised of members from both parties – voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend the board veto the change, foreshadowing edTPA’s failure.

“It seems that SBEC has outsourced or abdicated … their role in developing this [exam],” Member Matt Robinson, R-Friendswood, said. “They have brought something from outside of Texas and modified it.”

TEA staff clarified it is not the role of the education agency or the state educator certification board to develop exams. One agency staffer offered up the example of STAAR tests for students, which are developed by a testing vendor and administered by the state.

Davis pushed TEA staff on why they hadn’t looked into persistent problems with the current educator certification exam, which has issues with performance gaps between Black and white test takers.

“We haven’t figured anything out to make anything better,” Davis said. “We’re just kind of getting rid of one problem to create another one.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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