Connecting Teacher Preparation Programs and District Partners Through Performance Assessments

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John Seelke, Director of edTPA Local Evaluation at the University of Maryland’s College of Education

Districts play an important role in the preparation of teachers, but often, there isn’t a strong tie between teacher preparation programs and district partners. John Seelke, Director of edTPA Local Evaluation at the University of Maryland’s College of Education, is trying to change that through teacher performance assessments. Part of Seelke’s role at UMD involves working with mentor teachers as they locally evaluate his interns using the edTPA framework.

There is no shortage of controversy surrounding edTPA, a teacher performance assessment developed through a partnership between Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Some say its partnership with Pearson–which scores the assessments–makes it just another example of the privatization of education. Others see it as a misaligned, top down enforcement. Regardless, edTPA is an attempt to provide a performance-based, rigorous, and uniform standard for incoming teachers.

While implementation of edTPA hasn’t always been smooth at UMD, Seelke is supportive and sees the potential for teacher candidate assessments to bridge the gap between preparation programs and districts and improve the effectiveness of new teachers. What follows is a lightly edited version of a conversation I had with Seelke about edTPA and his work improving the partnerships between UMD’s teacher preparation programs and local school districts.

Kaitlin Pennington: There is not policy in Maryland requiring teacher preparation programs to use edTPA. Can you talk about what that means?

John Seelke: The states that have policies in place, such as New York and Illinois, have a policy tying edTPA to either certification or program completion. Those portfolios are officially scored. In Maryland, we have a collaborative of universities using edTPA and there’s potential that edTPA will eventually be required by the state. But until then, our edTPA assessments are not officially scored. Every year we reach out to our candidates and tell them the states that have edTPA in place. If they’re planning on relocating to one of those states in the next years, we will support those candidates to get them vouchers to be officially scored. It’s been about 30 to 35 candidates per year. Everyone else is locally evaluated. Local evaluations don’t use a 1 to 5 scale. Instead, the local evaluation uses emerging, proficient, advanced. But we still have k12 educators and our local national board folks doing that local evaluation. One unique thing for our candidates is that in addition to their rating, they also get qualitative feedback.

As an institution of higher education, we are trying to drive policy discussions around edTPA as opposed to some other states where the frustration was that the state mandated it. So we’re having conversations with members at the state department of education about the positives of edTPA. We’re trying to impact implementation of assessments as opposed to have it top down on to us. You can be critical of the implementation of the assessment or you can be critical of the assessment itself. This is totally unscientific, but I feel like a lot of the frustrations about the assessment really stem from how things were implemented. Very similar to Common Core.

Pennington: Why did The University of Maryland decide to use edPTA even though the state doesn’t require it?

Seelke: We saw value in the portfolio. The state of Maryland requires a portfolio to be completed as part of the teacher certification program. Right now, there is nothing that says what that portfolio should look like. For the longest time, Maryland had what I call a traditional teacher portfolio where people would put in their lesson plans, assessments, and reflections. And then our candidates would present the portfolio to mentors and other folks. Maryland had a couple of key faculty members who were familiar with PACT, the Performance Assessment of California Teachers, which was a predecessor to edTPA and they saw the value of a teacher performance assessment that really looked at actual teaching. And then over the years, there’s been more of a connection between edTPA and Danielson Framework for Teaching which is used by a lot of our local district partners. So it’s the connections to what’s happening in the districts and the ability to have a portfolio of actual teacher performance that led us to decide that we’re going to have our candidates do edTPA even though the state is not requiring it yet.

Pennington: Can you talk more about how an assessment like edTPA can help bridge the gap between teacher preparation programs and the districts in which teacher candidates will eventually work in?

Seelke: edTPA allows for common language. If someone is in a district that has the Danielson Framework for Teaching, a mentor can talk about the overlap between that and edTPA with a first year teacher. It’s also opened communication between us and our partner districts. We realized that we had far more portfolios to score than we could ever possibly do on our own. So we decided to reach out to our local k12 partners and our local national board certified teachers to do some type of local evaluation. That has been so positive. We did it because we didn’t have the human capital at the university to assess all of the portfolios so we needed help. What has happened is that the local evaluators now have a better understanding of what we’re doing at the university. Beforehand there wasn’t as much connection. Now we have mentor teachers and assistant principals looking at edTPA and realizing that our students are going to be that much more prepared for the classroom.

Then last year we made a big push to use edTPA in induction. We reached out to those who mentor our first year teachers in our districts. We invited them to be local evaluators so that they could understand what’s going on with edTPA. A handful of them found the time to do it. They’re finding that getting an understanding of edTPA helps them when they’re working with their first year teachers. They’re able to have a conversation in August about the first year teachers’ strengths and weakness from edTPA. Goals are able to be set earlier.

Pennington: What kind of feedback are you getting from teacher candidates and local evaluators?

Seelke: Anecdotally, candidates are saying that their teacher observations are that much easier because of the fact that they went through edTPA. As for local evaluators, last year we surveyed evaluators on the edTPA local evaluation process and we had a very positive response. The local evaluators saw the training process and the evaluation process as positive professional development for themselves. Educators were looking at their own teaching while evaluating edTPA. The majority saw the edTPA as something that was positive for student teachers to complete and that it connected to their own vision of good teaching. And then lastly, being an evaluator inspired these teachers to go out for national board certification or to renew their national board certification. So they’re growing as educators and they’re helping fill a need for us.

Pennington: What’s next for the University of Maryland and edTPA?

Seelke: Moving forward we want to continue to engage our k12 partners. We are hoping to find ways to work with our districts to meet with first year mentors and to host workshops around edTPA so that they understand the work. Another thing that has been very small scale that we hope to expand is a pilot project we did with six interns. As they were graduating, these interns looked at their edTPA local evaluation and completed a very simple one-to-two page professional development plan. So based on their local evaluation feedback they determined their strengths and things they’d like to work on and they made a plan on how to get that support in their first year of teaching. Our hope is that they will take that document and give it to their first year mentors. Having surveyed them once, what we’re finding is that they’re overwhelmed as first year teachers so not everyone is turning back to the professional development plan they made in August. So want to continue to find ways for students to use that and feel comfortable with it.