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Education News

UConn Professors: New Test Is Yet Another Hurdle For Aspiring Teachers Of Color

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
A fourth glade class at Alfred Lima Elementary School in Providence, Rhode Island in March 2017.

The state's new assessment for future teachers is biased against people of color and low-income students, according to a group of UConn professors, who said they want the state to stop using it and come up with something better.

Starting this fall, students who go through teacher preparation programs in Connecticut must pass a new testing protocol called edTPA, developed by Stanford University and Pearson, which is the largest education publisher in the world. The state's been piloting the test for a few years.

But Douglas Kaufman, a literacy professor at UConn’s Neag School of Education, said the test is not culturally responsive and inclusive. In other words, it doesn't consider the variety of ways that teachers connect to students or other hard-to-quantify measures.   

"It doesn't take into account multiple factors,” Kaufman said, “including the fact that a lot of teachers of color are going to want to work in very diverse school districts that have different challenges than schools of education may be preparing them for."

Some students reported feeling like they have to constantly “act white” to become a teacher, and the new testing procedure was yet another example of that.

In the UConn paper, a student-teacher is quoted saying: “You already have to prove yourself… being on a white campus… So like, this would be just an added stress.”

Cara Bernard, a music education professor at UConn’s Neag School, said the problem of bias exists throughout the education system.

“This is something systemic,” Bernard said, adding that the addition of edTPA to an already-multifaceted process “was just another stressful, financial burden and barrier for them."

The edTPA test also costs $300 -- making the process even more expensive, which could be a barrier for low-income students pursuing a teaching career. Aspiring teachers are already asked to pay hundreds of dollars for other tests related to licensing and certification.

Previously, teachers were assessed during their first three years of teaching through a state-funded program, which ended in 2009. With costs now being passed along to students, the new fee is effectively a teaching tax, said Mark Kohan, an education professor at Neag.

“Which is one of the reasons I imagine it is attractive to states,” Kohan said.

For its part, UConn has tried make its teaching prep program more culturally responsive, but the professors interviewed said tests like edTPA undermine those efforts.

“We have a teaching population in the state and in the country that is largely white,” said UConn’s Kaufman. “Everything has been normed to certain cultural biases. So, as these students come in, our job is to try to create environments where we can support them in the best ways we can. And that has been difficult because of the institution's cultural biases.”

“So when a test like the edTPA comes in, it’s just one more cultural hurdle,” he added.

Connecticut has been facing a shortage of teachers of color for years. Some work has gone into fixing the problem, but the fact remains -- over 90 percent of teachers here are white. Four years ago, the number was slightly higher.

In testimony before the legislature's Education Committee, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzel said edTPA should stay.

"There absolutely must be a set of uniform, professional standards across the state,” Wentzel stated in written testimony.

The State Department of Education is required to report on the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs. Removing “edTPA would be in direct conflict with the intent of that legislation,” Wentzel wrote.

Currently, 41 states and Washington, D.C., are using edTPA, according to its website, and 18 states require students to take it before passing a teacher prep program.

The state currently has no way to measure how well teachers are performing in class, which is why education department officials say edTPA is so critical.

The UConn professors have asked for policymakers to not move forward with edTPA, and come up with a more inclusive system.

There is a bill pending before the General Assembly that would establish a working group to study some of the concerns raised by the UConn professors.

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