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Likely coming to a teacher prep program near you: A harder licensure test

Emily Lamb student teaches an English class at Pearl-Cohn High School as part of her Teach For America training. Soon, new teachers might be evaluated based on videos of their student teaching.
Emily Lamb student teaches an English class at Pearl-Cohn High School as part of her Teach For America training. Soon, new teachers might be evaluated based on videos of their student teaching.
Grace Tatter

Tennessee students aren’t the only ones getting new, more rigorous assessments — soon, aspiring teachers in the state might be, too.

Right now, new teachers in the state must pass a paper-and-pencil exam on teaching skills like classroom management. But the State Board of Education is considering requiring teachers to pass a new test, known as edTPA, that uses video recordings of student teaching to show how they actually interact with students.

That exam is used by programs in 38 states as part of a broad push to ensure that teachers entering the classroom for the first time are ready to help students learn, and Tennessee has given programs the option to use it since 2013. The board will decide whether to make it a requirement in Tennessee at its next meeting in October.

“I think we’re finally making things happen in this area that needed to happen a long time ago,” said State Board chairman Fielding Roylston.

The discussion about the new exam comes as the state is trying both to make teaching more selective and increase the diversity of the state’s teaching force. When New York adopted edTPA in 2013, passing rates dropped across the board, but the impact was greatest for candidates of color.

Board members didn’t tackle that issue during their meeting Friday. Instead, they expressed concerns about the test’s cost, which at $300 per student is more than double the cost of the paper exam.

So far, programs that have experimented with the test have passed the cost to their students, but that could be an issue if the test is used more widely.

“You’re talking about the potential of $1,000 in fees for a student who is already paying tuition,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, referring to an accumulation of student fees and textbook costs, in addition to an edTPA fee. “I just want us to keep that in mind.”

The subcommittee also discussed switching to a new suite of content-knowledge assessment tests which, like edTPA, would be developed by Pearson and replace the PRAXIS. While edTPA tests assess how teachers teach, content-knowledge tests are meant to assess how well they understand their subjects. Tennessee requires teachers pass both types of tests. Like edTPA, states that have adopted Pearson content-knowledge tests have also seen lower passing rates.

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