The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted U.S. public education to a greater extent than any other event in recent memory. And while, teacher licensure requirements are probably far down the list of concerns for policymakers as the state prepares for the new academic year, it will be important to account for the fact that changes to K-12 schools occurring as a result of COVID-19 are affecting many aspects of teacher education.
With many districts choosing to start the year with exclusively virtual instruction, internships, student teaching, and other field-based experiences this fall have already been impacted. Even if face-to-face instruction resumes in the spring, student teachers may not be allowed in schools due to social distancing guidelines, and if they are, they may be unable to interact with students in the ways that teacher education programs and state licensure requirements often demand.
North Carolina, then, needs to reassess the practicality of its licensure requirements in the wake of the pandemic. Specifically, COVID-19 should bring an end to the use of a controversial program known as “edTPA”  as a state licensure requirement — not just for the duration of the crisis, but permanently. COVID-19 has illuminated one of the main issues preservice teachers and teacher educators have with the assessment: the synergy it requires between teacher education programs and K-12 schools.
As of this writing, over 900 teacher education programs in 41 states and the District of Columbia have incorporated edTPA into their curriculum, and approximately half of the nation’s states have legislated edTPA as a requirement for licensure. North Carolina started requiring edTPA in the 2017-2018 academic year, and it became consequential last year.
To complete edTPA, preservice teachers must:
- develop a “learning segment” that is comprised of a certain number of lessons,
- videotape and critique themselves teaching part of that learning segment, and
- analyze their assessments of student learning and critique their feedback to students.
edTPA is discipline-specific. This means preservice teachers are assessed on their ability to engage in disciplinary approaches to inquiry and discipline-specific academic language. Completion of edTPA requires approximately 30 pages of written responses to specific prompts, as well as copious evidence in the forms of lesson plans, supplementary materials, assessment instructions, and video clips. Preservice teachers typically complete edTPA during their student teaching semester in addition to the day-to-day demands of classroom teaching.
edTPA has attracted much criticism over the years, including concerns related to reliability and validity, the fact that it is owned by the controversial British-owned testing and publishing conglomerate Pearson, the monetary cost to preservice teachers, its failure to account for inclusivity and diversity, and the disruption it causes to the student teaching experience.
One of the main reasons for that disruption is edTPA’s reliance on preservice teachers’ K-12 school placement for successful completion, a limitation of edTPA that has been exacerbated by COVID-19. While edTPA does allow for completion while teaching virtually, the only way to satisfy the videotaped lesson requirement is through synchronous instruction, which simply did not occur in many schools when North Carolina closed schools this past spring. Even as districts promise that this year’s virtual instruction will include more interaction with teachers, it is unclear how often such synchronous interaction will occur.
It seems obvious, then, that the state should waive the edTPA requirement for the 2020-2021 cohort. Yet, I would encourage the state to go further and eliminate the edTPA requirement completely. Focusing solely on COVID-19 ignores the larger issue about edTPA that the virus exposed, and it would be a mistake for the state to require passing edTPA scores for licensure even after COVID-19 ceases to disrupt K-12 schooling.
Prior to the pandemic, edTPA often put preservice teachers in the unenviable position of being reliant on others to secure their license. For example, one of the hallmarks of edTPA is that it assesses whether preservice teachers can cater their instruction to meet the various learning needs of the students in their classes, including students with “IEP” and “504” plans . Yet anyone who has ever worked in a K-12 school knows that it may take weeks from the start of the semester for teachers to be given that information from their administration. The timeline to complete edTPA before graduation is usually so tight that many preservice teachers have to plan and even teach their learning segments before acquiring this information, which puts them at a disadvantage when writing their responses.
Another common impediment that preservice teachers must navigate is the relationship with their cooperating teacher. While some cooperating teachers are willing to give student teachers full autonomy over their classes, most still provide some degree of oversight over student teachers’ lesson plans, forcing them to teach topics in certain ways or using specific materials that they believe to be effective. As a result, the preservice teachers are put in the awkward position of either going against their cooperating teachers’ wishes or being forced to teach in a way that is not reflective of their own training or may not be conducive to passing edTPA.
COVID-19 has illuminated, or reconfirmed, many problematic aspects of K-12 and teacher education in the United States. It is easy to gloss over them and blame the virus, but what is needed is a critical examination of our existing practices. In theory, the mission of edTPA is admirable; in practice, it too often creates a situation in which preservice teachers are unable to accurately demonstrate their instructional competence due to factors outside of their control.
Given the drastic decline in the number of people wanting to become teachers in recent years, such barriers to licensure are not only unfair, they are also not prudent. The state of Georgia recently made the decision to drop edTPA as a licensure requirement for that reason, and North Carolina should follow suit. COVID-19 offers the perfect excuse for the state to distance itself from edTPA, not just for the duration of the pandemic, but permanently.
Wayne Journell is Professor and Associate Chair of the Teacher Education and Higher Education department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.