Sarah Jourdain, director of foreign language teacher preparation at Stony Brook University, in her office at the Stony Brook University campus, Jan. 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano
The state’s Board of Regents acknowledged Tuesday that failure rates are running far too high — at 23 percent — on a teacher-licensing exam taken so far by about 22,000 college students and others statewide.
Some Regents also voiced dismay during the board’s hourlong meeting in Albany on teacher-certification standards, that candidates can qualify for the profession after spending as little as 40 days training in elementary- or secondary-school classrooms.
The observation was based on board members’ recent visits to college campuses, where they were told that some teacher-training programs provide a full year of classroom experience, while others provide the minimum requirement of 40 days.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the board. “The difference between 40 days and a full year is like night and day. We shouldn’t sanction that.”
Teacher preparation is a hot topic across the state these days. Complaints from college students and faculty are mounting that the state’s new edTPA teacher exam is too difficult, in part because it requires candidates to submit a videotape of their work with students, which is prone to technical glitches. Twenty-three percent of candidates have failed the exam since it was first administered in 2014.
On Tuesday, Regents debated a report recommending, among other steps, that a standard-setting panel be convened to review and potentially “recalibrate” passing scores on the edTPA. Any such move could result in lower passing scores on the three versions of the edTPA now in use.
For example, the state sets a minimum passing score of 41 points out of a possible 75 on the exam version most often administered.
State education officials described that 41-point mark as the highest set by any state.
The advisory report also recommended a re-examination of the minimum number of days that teacher candidates should spend honing their skills in classrooms.
Regents generally endorsed that idea, but several leading board members voiced misgivings over the recommended review of passing scores.
“I’m worried about some people outside the profession wondering, does this make it even easier to be a teacher?” said Regent Andrew Brown, the board’s vice chancellor.
New York State United Teachers issued a statement Tuesday in support of the advisory report.
“The task force should be applauded for maintaining high standards for aspiring teachers who wish to enter the profession while correcting some of the most onerous problems associated with high-stakes testing and the incredibly bad rollout of edTPA,” wrote the group’s president, Karen Magee.
Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia is to make final recommendations to the Regents regarding any changes in teacher certification. A spokeswoman, Emily DeSantis, said those recommendations could come within the next month or so.
The commissioner could recommend any of a number of approaches outlined in the advisory report discussed on Tuesday, aside from the suggested establishment of a standard-setting panel.
Another suggestion is to review the college records of students falling a point or two below the minimum passing score. Under this approach, candidates might gain certification on a combined basis of class grades, professors’ recommendations and the like.
Still another recommendation would eliminate one of three other exams now required for certification, besides the edTPA. Candidates frequently complain about the costs of the battery. While deputy state education commissioner John D’Agati said the price recently has gone down slightly, the price still ranges from $650 to $700.
Teacher candidates failing the edPTA are allowed, for free, to take an older exam on which the passing percentage is in the mid-90s.
Many college faculty members involved in teacher training blame dissatisfaction with the edTPA for part of a recent falloff in enrollments of students who want to be teachers. Another often-cited factor is the widespread teacher layoffs that occurred statewide in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
United University Professions, a union group representing faculty on state-operated campuses, reported Tuesday that the state had experienced a 46.5 percent decline in enrollments — more than 36,000 students — between 2009 and 2014.
Sarah Jourdain, director of foreign-language teacher preparation at Stony Brook University, said she has encountered cases where school districts have not allowed student teachers to videotape their classroom work, out of concern for the privacy of their own younger students. In such cases, Jourdain said, her program has switched those trainees to other schools.
“We all want a professional education program,” said Jourdain, as she talked of the edTPA’s impact. “But the effects as far as I can see have not been to professionalize teaching so far.”