By Emily Hodge, Rachel Garver, and Drew Gitomer
What happens on the ground when years of strong state control and authority over teacher licensure is suddenly minimized? In what ways do local educational institutions change and maintain practices when state oversight is explicitly reduced and they now have increased autonomy? The case of teacher performance assessment and the changing responsibility and authority of the New Jersey Department of Education and teacher preparation institutions will be providing an interesting opportunity to examine these questions.
From 2016 through 2022, all teacher education candidates in New Jersey were required by statute to complete a specific performance assessment, the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) in order to gain certification. edTPA is a complex performance assessment that requires candidates to share lesson plans, a video from the classroom they teach, and the assessments they develop, all with a detailed analysis and commentary that is very demanding for teacher candidates and their teacher preparation programs.
As we described in our blog entry this past January, this requirement has now been changed such that under the new policy, each educator preparation program (EPP) will be responsible for designing and/or selecting a performance-based assessment to evaluate candidates. How this new policy evolved is interesting in its own right, and what it will mean for programs and teacher candidates is a question that we have only started exploring.
Amidst a bevy of concerns about the edTPA, both the State Assembly and Senate unanimously passed a dramatic change to the existing legislation which removed all authority from the State Board of Education (S.896) in June 2022:
Notwithstanding any law, rule, or regulation to the contrary, the State Board of Education shall not require a candidate for a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing to complete a Commissioner of Education approved performance-based assessment, including, but not limited to, the edTPA, as a condition of eligibility for a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing.
Not only was the state no longer allowed to require edTPA, but educator preparation programs were prohibited from even considering whether the candidate had completed a Commissioner of Education-approved performance-based assessment as they made decisions about a candidate for teacher certification.
While everyone in the legislature was in agreement, the bill did not become law immediately. Governor Murphy responded to the legislature in September 2022 and spoke about the value of performance-based assessments as important indicators for candidates to demonstrate their pedagogical skills to teach students. But he also expressed an appreciation of concerns about the edTPA posing an undue burden on prospective teachers and programs as well as having an adverse impact on the number and diversity of individuals willing to pursue teaching in the face of teacher shortages. Governor Murphy also agreed with transferring the authority to select performance–based assessments from the Commissioner of Education to the EPPs themselves.
With the Governor’s guidance, the legislature modified the law to continue to prohibit the completion of a Commissioner of Education approved program. However, the amended bill included the following language mandating that programs continue to include a performance assessment, albeit under each institution’s control:
An educator preparation program shall require candidates to complete a performance-based assessment approved by the educator preparation program, embedded within the educator preparation program, beginning with candidates who will complete their educator preparation program in the Spring of 2024.
Once again, both legislative bodies passed the bill unanimously, and it was signed into law in December 2022. In the current political climate, it is striking that the move from full state authority to the removal of any authority to an approach that mandated certain processes but under institutional control were all endorsed with unanimity.
What the law actually intended for institutions was for them to await formal rulemaking. While preparation programs were certainly planning for the future, they were reluctant to commit to a specific direction until the rules were issued.
In June 2023, guidance from the Department of Education was released. Programs are required to submit to the Department by December 2023 plans that describe their assessment and how the program will ensure appropriate assessment quality through alignment with standards, training of raters, the reliability and validity of the assessment, effective communication about the assessment, setting passing criteria, and establishing retake policies. The Department’s role is limited to acknowledging receipt of the plans.
What will educator preparation programs do within this new policy, one in which the State does not authorize or approve the assessments that institutions choose to use with their teacher candidates? How much, and in what ways, will the systems they develop vary from the assessments that were in place prior to the change in policy? What kinds of alliances and common approaches will be forged? How will institutions internally forge new practices and work with each other when their practices are not prescribed?
We are looking forward to talking with colleagues in these educator preparation programs as well as representatives from the State Department of Education to understand their goals, plans, and perceptions of this very substantial change in policy.