Sense Making and Professional Identity in the Implementation of edTPA

January 1, 2020

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 71 issue: 1, page(s): 9-23

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study the authors focus on the degree to which teacher candidates feel edTPA (Educative Teacher Performance Assessment) aligns with the content and goals of their teacher preparation program.
They then analyze how specific programmatic factors, including teacher educators’ conceptualizations of edTPA, are associated with the candidates’ perceptions of edTPA.
The authors answer the following research questions:
1: How do teacher educators and teacher candidates perceive the adoption of edTPA?
2: How do perceptions vary by program, licensure area, or stakeholder role within a university?

Data and Method
All data come from a single state university with a long history using edTPA. During the year of the study, all programs were required to use edTPA as a graduation requirement.
Studying a site that has used edTPA for a long period was helpful in allowing the authors to analyze implementation that reflects multiple years of cohorts and adjustments.
The authors surveyed central stakeholders in edTPA implementation—candidates, methods instructors, university administrators, field supervisors—and had high response rates.
To understand edTPA implementation from a wide range of stakeholders, the authors designed a mixed-methods case study.
Surveys allowed them to gather the perspectives of more than 250 actors involved in edTPA. In total, 51 interviews helped provide nuance and depth to those quantitative measures (Marshall & Rosmman, 2014).

Findings and discussion

A sense-making framework suggests that implementation analyses should focus less on “fidelity” to a particular reform and more on the environmental and personal contexts in which implementation occurs because contextual factors shape actors’ responses to reforms in fundamental ways (Spillane et al., 2002).
The authors hypothesized that these contextual factors would be especially salient in a reform such as edTPA that involves multiple goals and crosscuts a variety of programmatic, disciplinary, and professional perspectives.
Their findings confirm this hypothesis and underscore the importance of studying how contextual factors influence sensemaking about reforms.
It was variation in the proximate contexts (notably programs) and identities that were associated with variation in perception of edTPA implementation, not duration of implementation.

In raising the salience of contextualized sense-making, the authors results highlight three notable implementation challenges:
(a) the potential of top-down mandates leading to a lack of clarity about goals and variable implementation across programs,
(b) the salience of program context for influencing implementation—highlighted by candidates’ divergent views of support available while completing edTPA, and
(c) the multiple professional identities of teacher educators that color perceptions of and engagement with edTPA’s professionalization goals.
Given that edTPA implementation is ongoing at some 700 universities, it is important that we understand the factors that affect implementation so that best practices can be identified and potential pitfalls can be avoided.
This has several important implications for how we think and talk about edTPA implementation.

The authors posit that it requires we disaggregate discussions of edTPA implementation.
Although the literature often speaks about specific universities “doing edTPA,” these data suggest that such framing is misleading. edTPA is implemented in markedly different ways within particular programs within the same university, and those differences contribute to significantly different perceptions for all involved. While some viewed edTPA as central to a preparation program and valuable for candidates’ long-term professional development, others viewed it as an irrelevant, if consequential, “add-on.”
Although university administrators believed more time and familiarity would reduce these differences—a common assumption—the study data suggest this is unlikely, as implementation duration was not associated with these variations in perception of edTPA.

The authors’ data suggest that a constellation of less readily quantifiable factors and group dynamics contributed to differences in programmatic implementation of edTPA.
Based on their interviews with different stakeholders, network structures and internal hierarchies may have played a role in what actors had “voice” or “say” in particular program contexts.
The authors note that understanding the particulars of these network structures is beyond the scope of this study, but the findings indicate these issues are important topics for future research on edTPA.
The authors note that more so than many reforms, edTPA implementation involves particular challenges in that it incorporates goals ranging from developing individual teacher practices to reorganizing teacher education curricula to shifting the societal status of teachers—while intertwining the potentially conflicting ideologies of professionalization and accountability (Cochran-Smith, Piazza, & Power, 2013; cf. Darling-Hammond & Hyler, 2013).
The theoretical balance edTPA maintains between these goals was disrupted in practice by respondents, particularly tenure-track faculty members, who openly questioned the implications of edTPA for teacher preparation.

While clinical faculty viewed edTPA as conferring additional professional status through its association with rigorous standards and standardized evaluation, tenure track faculty viewed edTPA’s standards as a mark of diminished professional status—requiring the ceding of judgment, discretion, and autonomy in the name of reform.
If these divergent views were confined to feelings of internal conflict or water-cooler debates, the matter would be interesting but incidental to the core work of implementation. However, teacher candidates were clearly aware of these disagreements.
The mixed, or openly conflicting, messages colored candidates’ understandings of edTPA and, in turn, their experience with edTPA as a summative, capstone assessment.
Teacher educators should recognize that, according to these findings, their responses to edTPA and its myriad goals will likely color teacher candidates’ perspectives on an assessment that is a consequential component of their teacher education experience.

The authors conclude that university-based teacher education is an incredibly complex endeavor involving a variety of institutions, goals, and professional identities.
It is hardly surprising, then, that an effort to create a common framework to unify this disparate endeavor would, as their data indicate, result in the persistence of variation.
Still, only by describing this variation within and across teacher education programs, can we begin to determine how to address these implementation challenges.
In particular, we need a clearer understanding of what variation is desirable and worth preserving, and what is inimical to the goals of programs, edTPA, or the teacher profession more generally.
Although state and university edTPA mandates create a top-down dynamic, implementation must proceed in ways that acknowledge the complexity of the institutional mission of colleges of education and that honors and engages the multitude of professional identities involved in the training of future educators.
Even as policymakers and teacher educators strive to standardize the work of teacher training through reforms such as edTPA, we must accept that our approaches to improve a system must be at least as nuanced and complex as the system itself.

Cochran-Smith, M., Piazza, P., Power, C. (2013). The politics of accountability: Assessing teacher education in the United States. The Educational Forum, 77(1), 6-27.
Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E. (2013). The role of performance assessment in developing teaching as a profession. Rethinking Schools, 27(4), 10-15.
Marshall, C., Rossman, G. B. (2014). Designing qualitative research. New York, NY: SAGE.
Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., Reimer, T. (2002). Policy implementation and cognition: Reframing and refocusing implementation research. Review of Educational Research, 72(3), 387-431.

Updated: Jul. 21, 2020