After months of calls to eliminate a state-mandated expensive teacher licensing test blamed for worsening the teacher shortage, Gov. Phil Murphy did away with it — sort of.
The Murphy administration said the educative Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA, would no longer be required in New Jersey, but it must be replaced by a similar test to be used to certify graduates.
Murphy issued a conditional veto Thursday to bill S896, which shifts the burden of certifying teachers from the state’s shoulders to the colleges that train them. Starting in spring 2024, colleges and universities will be required to use their own tests as a final step to certify graduates before they may join the workforce.
The conditional veto was welcomed by many of the state’s education-related groups, including the state superintendents’ association, teachers’ unions and school principals’ associations. Some said Murphy waited too long to make a decision about the test. The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, welcomed the move to remove the edTPA but indicated in its statement that the decision could have come earlier, and that it continues to delay teacher candidates who are otherwise ready to start working.
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Removing the edTPA was “a victory for all future educators,” the NJEA said in a statement, which noted that the test was not completely eliminated.
“There are classroom vacancies across New Jersey right now waiting to be filled by educators who will be eligible for certification as soon as edTPA is finally eliminated,” it said. “While it is unfortunate that the school year had to start without them, New Jersey students will soon have the opportunity to benefit from their passion and expertise.”
Others questioned why New Jersey colleges must conduct an additional certification requirement when they are already held to very high standards by the state.
“We still need to provide data to our accreditors that our students are teaching effectively,” said Dan Katz, a professor at Seton Hall University.
“This is a positive step,” Katz said. “I think the conditional veto is Governor Murphy sending a signal that all of the EPPs [Educator Preparation Programs] are still assessing their candidate impact, but I worry that not enough people in Trenton know that we would have to have done that anyway.”
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Murphy’s conditional veto explained that easing efforts to certify teachers “must not come at the expense of teacher quality,” and it commented on “the high caliber of New Jersey’s teachers.” It said performance-based assessments like the edTPA helped pre-service teachers show their effectiveness in the classroom and reach beyond theory.
It is not clear how colleges will move forward and what type of additional certification requirements they will require from their students.
Seton Hall University’s undergraduate teacher education program used a “teacher work-sample” until the edTPA came into the picture. This was a much cheaper way to certify teachers and gave colleges control over the process, unlike the state’s test, which is owned and scored by Pearson Inc., a private standardized testing company, Katz said.
Opposition to the edTPA is almost unanimous in the state. An open letter in March asked the Murphy administration to eliminate the test. It was co-signed by the NJEA, education policy researchers, minority advocacy organizations, and some of the state’s largest teacher preparation programs, including the Education Law Center, Save Our Schools NJ, the New Jersey School Boards Association, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education.
All said the test was burdensome, and expensive at $300, and that its owner, Pearson, could not show how effective it was in evaluating teachers. The test is a pass/fail and does not provide individual feedback, even though test takers have to create videos and write self-reflections about their teaching.
In addition to cost, technology is a barrier, since the edTPA requires uploading large files, a further difficulty for low-income graduates without access to high-speed internet.
Katz said in August that he was part of several conversations with science teachers who, in coordination with the NJEA in the summer, were trying “to sound the alarm bell” and attract candidates for open positions in the state’s public schools. Declining enrollments in teacher education programs were an ongoing problem in New Jersey before the pandemic and have continued. The federal government allocated $600 million in new funds in June towards addressing the teacher shortage nationally and recruiting a diverse teacher workforce.
Stacy Leftwich, president of the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would be an additional burden for colleges and their graduates to complete teacher assessment instead of the edTPA. In a carefully worded statement, the organization said the governor’s decision was “a step” in removing costs and stress and that this “may serve” to attract candidates eager to work in the state’s diverse communities.
Work towards making the edTPA a requirement began in 2014, during the Chris Christie administration, but the requirement kicked in during the Murphy administration. Since 2017, teachers have had to take and pass the test to be fully certified to teach.
Delaware, Georgia and Washington did away with the edTPA as a requirement for teacher certification. The Murphy administration said it closely modeled its response on the system used in New York, which in April voted to replace the state’s test requirement with a teacher performance assessment or similar clinical experience at the college level.