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August 21, 2014

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Would-be teachers face tougher certification tests

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AP

In this April 10, 2014, file photo, student teacher Franchesca Moreno, 21, reads to Andreanna Thomas, 6, right, and Alana Cawthon, upper left, at Bennett Park Montessori School in Buffalo, N.Y. Moreno is among the first future New York teachers required to pass a kind of “bar exam” to become professionally certified.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Franchesca Moreno's work as a student teacher didn't end when the kids went home for the day.

Instead, she spent hours analyzing video and writing commentary of her teaching, which she had to submit as part of a new test New York state will require for certification in 2015.

"On top of lesson planning and teaching and all of that, I would go to the library and stay there for a while every day. It was a lot," said Moreno, who is among the first aspiring teachers to take the performance-based exam, called the edTPA. "I'm just hoping I pass."

Seven states now require state-approved performance assessments for graduation or accreditation, following calls by organizations including the American Federation of Teachers and Council of Chief State School Officers for more authentic measures of a teacher's readiness.

Supporters say it is only fair to raise the bar for teachers at a time when students are being challenged by new Common Core learning standards that are changing how and what they learn.

"What it comes back to is the reliance on these paper and pencil, multiple-choice assessments to determine whether the candidates are ready to be in classrooms are just not robust enough, that they don't give us enough information about their readiness," said Saroja Barnes, senior director for professional issues at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Barnes said the best way to know whether a candidate is ready is to watch him or her in action.

The AACTE worked with the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity, or SCALE, to develop the edTPA, the most widely used test. Besides New York, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin will require it for certification by 2017, while college campuses elsewhere are piloting the exam, the developers said.

Following backlash from those who say implementation was rushed, New York's Board of Regents voted Tuesday to relax a requirement that teaching candidates graduating after May 1 must pass the edTPA. While the state Education Department estimated that more than 80 percent of would-be teachers have passed, the board voted to let student teachers who fail it before the end of June 2015 to be certified using a separate written test.

"It's a good reflection of what teaching is all about, but it's a bear. It's a real bear," said Education Dean Wendy Paterson at the State University of New York's Buffalo State campus, where Moreno majors in early education. She said some edTPAs have included 50 pages of writing.

Moreno, 21, said she worked on the test packet for about 10 weeks while student teaching at a school in Buffalo. She expects her results toward the end of May.

She said videotaping and analyzing her own teaching was onerous but made her a better teacher.

"It was a lot of putting what you learned in college into practice," she said.

That's the idea, said Ray Pecheone, executive director of the SCALE center.

"The edTPA deals with bread-and-butter core abilities that are part of effective teaching. It's focusing on lesson plans, focusing on actual teaching, how teachers assess and evaluate students, the assignments they give their students and the feedback they give their students on their assignments," Pecheone said. "This is what teaching is."

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