The edTPA: What We Do & Don't Know

Blog Post
June 28, 2016

Each year approximately 100,000 novice teachers enter the public school workforce. Before doing so, nearly all must pass one or more of the standardized, mostly multiple-choice certification exams that assess candidates’ pedagogical and content knowledge (such as the Praxis I and II). And nearly all prospective teachers will pass, as most states have set a low bar for doing so. Not surprisingly, passing rates on these exams only minimally predict teacher effectiveness,  and their predictiveness is particularly limited for candidates of color.

Over the last few years, a growing number of candidates have also been asked to pass a new kind of assessment: the edTPA. But what do we actually know about how the edTPA compares to traditional teacher licensure exams, and does it address the concerns that they raise?

The edTPA, like other certification exams, attempts to measure what teacher candidates know about their content area and teaching practice. However, unlike sit-down licensure tests, the edTPA is a performance-based assessment that is assembled during a candidate’s student teaching experience to examine how they translate their knowledge into practice. Student teachers submit three video-recorded lessons and other “artifacts,” such as lesson plans and student assessment tools, to external edTPA scorers. These scorers then grade candidates using rubrics for one of 27 different education disciplines. For example, the Secondary English Language Arts rubrics evaluate candidates on areas such as “Planning to Support Varied Student Learning Needs”—a skill that can only be tested at a surface-level in a multiple choice exam.

As an exam developed to measure teaching competencies, not solely knowledge, some in the education field have been excited about the edTPA’s potential to change the profession in positive ways. However, whether it will actually do so is still unclear. Take concerns with the high passing rates on traditional licensure exams, for example. States can determine their own edTPA cutoff score for teacher candidates. And, as with the more traditional exams, some states have set a low bar for edTPA passage. In fact, based on our analysis of states’ edTPA policies, four of the ten states that have determined a passing score have set it below edTPA’s recommended score range and another two have set it at the range’s lowest point.

So it follows that pass rates on the edTPA are still relatively high. Last year, 18,000 prospective teachers took the edTPA nationally, and about 72 percent scored high enough to pass. This pass rate seems more reasonable than the national pass rate for traditional licensure tests of over 90 percent. Still, the rate is 14 percentage points higher than the edTPA creators expected. Perhaps teacher candidates are better prepared than they were previously, but there are other possible explanations. For instance, edTPA’s remote team of over 2,300 temporary scorers can apply to score several tests a month if they meet a range of qualifications. Given the number of different edTPA versions, this cadre of scorers could be unintentionally inflating candidates’ scores and adding to the problem of low cutoff scores set by states, especially given their varied backgrounds in teaching. Together, these issues suggest that the edTPA has not yet fully risen above traditional testing methods in setting a high bar for entering the teaching profession.

What’s more, the relationships between candidates’ passing the edTPA, their exact score achieved, and their later success in the classroom are still unclear. A recent study by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) examines whether candidate performance on the edTPA is related to being a more effective teacher in the classroom. The CALDER researchers found that students of Washington teachers who passed the edTPA on the first try, on average, scored a quarter of a standard deviation higher on standardized tests of reading relative to those who failed the test.

But the researchers did not find the same results for math teachers. For those teachers, the number of points a teacher scored on the edTPA was a better predictor of student success than simply passing the test. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given the fact that Washington is one state that sets the bar for passage below the recommended threshold. And even these mixed results should be interpreted with caution, given the relatively small number of teachers studied, possible sample selection bias, and the fact that passing the edTPA did not become required for licensure in Washington until a year into the study’s examined data.

Similarly, studies examining the relationship between traditional licensure exams and teacher effectiveness have found mixed results. (Interestingly, many of the positive associations found between teachers’ licensure exam scores and student performance have been in middle school mathematics). So the question of whether the edTPA—or any licensure test—can reliably predict teacher success remains unanswered, and further evidence is needed to suggest that the edTPA is more effective than traditional tests at identifying future successful teachers.

This includes successful diverse teachers. Creating a teacher workforce that better reflects the nation's student population continues to be a struggle for many cities and for the country as a whole. One initial finding suggests that average score differences between racial groups are less prominent for the edTPA than for other tests, but this information was offered by edTPA’s creators (as opposed to an independent researcher) and covers only candidates who took the test in 2014. Therefore, these results should be interpreted cautiously, and the question should continue to drive research by edTPA and independent researchers.

Several key questions remain about the edTPA’s ability to address the issues raised by traditional licensure tests. As the education field continues to grapple with ways to ensure teacher candidates are well-prepared for their first day on the job, it will be crucial to continue examining the policies and entry assessments that shape the teacher workforce. And as new assessments like the edTPA emerge, it will be important to continue to evaluate their power to effectively prepare teachers and measure the potential a new candidate has to help all students succeed.