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A Message to AACTE Members about the TPA Print E-mail

It is important to offer comments regarding the work our colleagues have been engaged in to produce a nationally available performance assessment. A recent New York Times column positioned the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) as motivated or inspired by the commercial interests of one of the major test publishers. AACTE regards the TPA quite differently, viewing it as the result of hard work to create an essential tool using professional consensus. AACTE President and CEO Sharon P. Robinson, Ed.D., expanded on this perspective in a recent letter entitled “The Professional Community and the TPA.”

AACTE has also provided answers to common questions about the TPA here. We look forward to working together with you as colleagues to continue moving educator preparation toward program outcomes we are confident will push the needle on student achievement.


+2 #5 Marcy Singer-Gabella 2012-06-18 04:41
My comments echo the points of my colleagues from Colorado, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Faculty from the eight Tennessee universities who participated in the 2012 field test (and earlier pilot) report that working with the TPA has led to more focused and fruitful conversations about aims for candidates and how to achieve them. The TPA has provided shared language and images of sound teaching practices and what it looks like to learn them. There is a strong sense of alignment with core values that I think has been key to TPA’s broad appeal among university faculty and our school-based partners.

At Vanderbilt, program changes based on TPA data have resulted in noticeable differences in our graduates’ readiness for the field. For example, our early work with the TPA revealed that candidates were having difficulty analyzing student work and giving students usable feedback. In response we have revised coursework and field assignments to provide more opportunities for practice in these areas. We are now beginning to see the payoff in candidates’ teaching.

Admittedly, some parts of the implementation have felt grueling. So what has compelled us to stick with it? First, what makes this model tough is what makes it potent: it examines and supports candidates’ abilities to do what teaching takes, with real learners, in real time. Second, in providing a common language and working vision of good practice, the TPA links us to a network of smart and committed educators from across the country, working on the shared challenge of enabling teachers to serve all learners well.

Marcy Singer-Gabella
Peabody College of Education
Vanderbilt University
+3 #4 Jennie Whitcomb 2012-06-14 17:50
When I considered whether my institution should pursue participating in the consortium and pilot, field test, and adopt the TPA, the following principles guided that thinking. First, we wanted an assessment tool that reflected the work of teaching and that was sufficiently supple to allow our candidates to be creative in their instructional approaches and to live out our commitments to teaching in ways that enhance equity and access. Second, we wanted a tool that would support program-level conversations about program coherence. Third, we wanted a performance-bas ed assessment to replace the Teacher Work Sample (which ten years ago was a poorly supported state mandate in my state). And, fourth, we wanted a tool that was scored externally by well-trained professional teachers and teacher educators. The TPA was the only assessment that met all these criteria. I see the TPA as a m"mini-national board," and we aspire to inspire our candidates to place themselves on a trajectory toward board certification. Our candidates report, after experiencing the pilot and field test (and yes it was not all smooth sailing in the implementation) that the TPA commentary prompts pressed them to analyze and reflect deeply upon their thinking. This is not the only source of evidence we rely upon for licensure decisions, nor is it the only approach we take to helping our candidates conceptualize and work out their stances and visions as educators. But, it is an important tool to ensure our candidates have demonstrated readiness to enter this profession, particularly given the challenging work conditions most will face. I also appreciate the opportunity to participate in a national network of teacher educators. At my institution we do not agree on all aspects of the TPA rubric, but we do find value in talking with one another as we examine exemplars of our candidate's work.

Jennie Whitcomb
University of Colorado Boulder
+4 #3 Amee Adkins 2012-06-06 11:26
Let me offer a different perspective: the TPA is the product of a consortium of teacher educators, as well as state policy makers, who are working to develop a worthwhile measure of the core of effective beginning teaching (CEBT). Inherently, then, the TPA advances a definition of CEBT, specifically planning based on knowledge of one's students' needs and strengths, engaging students in understanding, providing consideration for academic language demands, and analyzing one's teaching effectiveness through purposeful assessment. This represents a definition that is clear, concise, and precise. The TPA provides an authentic, direct, performance-bas ed assessment of a candidate's ability to demonstrate proficiency. At this point in concept, while we await field-test results, this is the most robust assessment (and definition) the teacher education profession has advanced. It provides us in teacher education, as well as the public to whom we are accountable, a common touch point to describe our responsibility and to evaluate our effectiveness. I, for one, obviously welcome the opportunity.
+3 #2 Desiree Pointer Mace 2012-06-06 10:28
One perennial problem plaguing the profession of teaching is that the characteristics that describe the strongest teachers are not ones that are diagnosed through the currently-used interstate standardized measures of content and pedagogical knowledge, such as the PRAXIS II. It matters, in a relational profession, to develop candidates who are not only masters of content knowledge, but who can formulate a generative question to get students connected to the content. It matters not only to have stringent entrance requirements to admit teacher candidates into licensure programs, but to make sure they have what it takes to do the daily work of teaching. That work encompasses the ability to deeply understand your students, to develop learning opportunities that will provide appropriate cognitive demand for them, to engage them while you are teaching, to make sense of what your assessment data tell you, and to reflect on reasonable next steps. That is the terrain mapped by the TPA; it’s also the performance assessment philosophy long practiced by my institution, Alverno College of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We have been one of the pilot institutions and for our students, the transition into the TPA was fairly seamless, because it took the place of a previous performance assessment of whole-class instruction we had embedded into the student teaching semester.

Yes, the TPA is difficult. But so is the work of teaching. And yes, it's mandated by the state. But that's how teacher licensure is done. For all the critiques of the TPA, I have yet to hear one that delegitimizes the vision of accomplished novice-level teaching articulated in the rubrics. I believe that if the teaching profession has a common instrument to appropriately identify promising candidates, it will raise the bar for entry into the profession with criteria that strongly describe accomplished practice. At Alverno, we have seen that the TPA is already advancing candidate conversations with their cooperating teachers, many of whom may not on a daily basis give consideration to how their students’ lived experiences may connect to their instructional experiences, though they should. The TPA provides an important and evidentiary counter to arguments around evaluating teacher competence through test scores. The enactment of teaching is the critical lever for high student outcomes; the TPA provides an interstate mechanism for articulating and advancing a vision of accomplished novice teaching practice.

Desiree Pointer Mace, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Education
Associate Dean of Graduate Programs
Alverno College: Milwaukee, WI
+7 #1 Scott Fenwick 2012-05-15 07:59
As someone who completed a Master of Education in Instructional Leadership with certification to teach secondary history and social studies at a large state university in Illinois a year ago, I empathize with the folks at UMass. I also stand in solidarity with them. I was volunteered to be a part of this exact same pilot program. It's called TPAC. I opted out of the pilot program for a number of reasons. Little did I know it was worse than I thought.

First, the College of Education at my institution had no idea what it was dealing with. A mandate came down from the State and they thought they'd use us teacher trainees as guinea pigs. What they asked of us was unreasonably burdensome. Student teaching is tough. Getting a placement in an environment in which one can experience a true professional apprenticeship is even tougher. And then to ask a student teacher to potentially compromise himself by videotaping the classroom shows a lack of forethought. Schools volunteer to accept student teachers. There's no mandate to take them in. And once schools get a whiff of these TPAC requirements fewer will want to accept student teachers, making it even harder for higher education institutions to find placements for their teacher trainees. As you can see, only fools rush in.

Sadly, and more broadly, the fact that this TPAC evaluation system even exists reflects the profound distrust and disconnect between government, the public, and (real) education professionals. It's maddening to think that university professors and administrators - experts with PhDs - are so willing to yield to state bureaucrats and corporate for-profit interests. Do they not realize that this TPAC evaluation system is a step towards standardizing what they teach and how they teach it? Just like K-12 teachers, these folks' professional judgment is now being compromised as well. Academic freedom is waning.

Unfortunately, teacher trainees in Illinois soon won't be as lucky as me. They will have to comply with the State's mandate. In the near future, these folks (some of whom I happen to teach and advise at the moment) will have to endure the pain (and perhaps shame) of this madness called the TPAC. And then corporate revenues will grow while politicians' campaign coffers swell. The hijacking of public education is in full swing – now even at the post-secondary level. Those in a position to lead must not just sit there and take it. Shame on them if they do. Here's to the courage exhibited by the students and teachers at UMass. They, and those like them, should not go down without a fight.

Scott Fenwick
Graduate Program Assistant
Teaching of History
University of Illinois at Chicago

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