High-Stakes Assessment in an Elementary Teacher Preparation Program: A Case Study of Multiple Stakeholders

June 2021

Source: Teacher Development, 25:3, 366-388

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study’s context is an urban-situated elementary teacher preparation program attempting to provide seamless preparation for edTPA. The study occurring soon after the assessment was mandated by the state as a gatekeeper for certification.
The inquiry sought to create a nuanced yet full picture of the experience of edTPA in the teacher preparation program by collecting both quantitative and qualitative data and providing voice to a variety of stakeholders.

Research question
This research question guided the study: How do stakeholders in an elementary teacher preparation program describe their experiences with and views on the recently mandated, high-stakes edTPA?

The design of this study involved a descriptive, holistic singular-case approach (Yin 2014).
The case is stakeholders in an elementary teacher preparation program engaging in edTPA.
Multiple sources of data, both quantitative and qualitative in nature, formed the descriptive findings.

Participants and setting
The 60 stakeholders included six instructors, six supervisors, two administrators, 30 teacher candidates, and 16 cooperating teachers in an undergraduate elementary teacher preparation program at a large, urban university in the southeastern United States.
The two-year teacher preparation program, completed during the junior and senior years, is intended to lead to a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification in Early Childhood Education (grades PreK–5).
It consists of three semesters of courses with concurrent two-days-per-week field placements, followed by a five-days-per-week semester of student teaching.
The program is large, as approximately 150 teacher candidates are placed each semester in schools.
The program emphasizes the connection of coursework with field experiences and research-based practices for instruction of diverse learners in urban schools.
edTPA was first piloted in spring semester 2013 with 11 teacher candidates.
Starting fall semester 2013 all teacher candidates completed the assessment, with scores first consequential in 2015–16, meaning teacher candidates had to pass edTPA to receive teacher certification from the state.
The final semester, student teaching, is when teacher candidates complete edTPA, along with other measures of their readiness to teach.
They participate in six 2.5-hour seminars facilitated by the program coordinator designed to assist in understanding edTPA.
Supervisors support and oversee teacher candidates’ completion of edTPA during student teaching.
They are provided guidelines about appropriate and inappropriate forms of support for edTPA, as outlined by the developers of edTPA.

Instruments and data collection
Qualitative data were collected via individual interviews, and quantitative data were collected through surveys.
Data collection occurred during the student teaching semester of the second consequential year of edTPA.
Interviews of instructors, supervisors, and administrators occurred mid-way through the semester.
Interviews of teacher candidates took place after submission of edTPA portfolios, but before their scores were received.
Teacher candidates also completed an edTPA-related survey during this time.
Cooperating teachers completed an edTPA-related survey at the end of the student teaching semester.
Twenty of the 60 stakeholders were involved in individual, semi-structured interviews, specifically the six instructors, six supervisors, and two administrators, along with six of the teacher candidates.
The six teacher candidates were randomly selected from the overall group of 30. Interview protocol questions emphasized views on and experiences with edTPA.
All teacher candidates and cooperating teachers completed edTPA-related surveys created by the researchers.
The Teacher Candidate Survey contains four demographic questions and 31 Likert-type scale items clustering around: preparation and understanding (8 items), educative value (15 items), and implementation in placement classrooms (8 items).
Two additional items focus on preparation and understanding by course and task and use a 5-point scale, ranging from very prepared to not prepared at all.
The Cooperating Teacher Survey contains 35 Likert-type scale items clustering around: educative value (17 items) and understanding and support (18 items).
On both surveys, all Likert-type scale items have the five response categories of strongly agree, agree, uncertain, disagree, and strongly disagree.

Results and discussion
Stakeholders found the assessment overwhelming, often taking precedence because of its consequential nature.
Changes were questioned, as the program was already held in high regard and produced quality teachers prepared for urban schools.
The carefully constructed program experiences had proven their effectiveness over time, evidenced in part by graduates’ retention in the profession.
The stakeholders were believers in the program, and they questioned the usefulness of a standardized TPA, which was accompanied by resistance and opposition from some.
The quantitative and qualitative data provide nuanced yet full understandings of how the stakeholders experienced and viewed edTPA in the program and also confirm and extend the extant research.
The survey data show teacher candidates generally understood the assessment’s expectations and felt prepared and supported, which was affirmed by the interview data.
However, the survey data indicate they viewed their cooperating teacher as lacking knowledge of edTPA.
The cooperating teachers’ highest survey means were related to helping and encouraging teacher candidates with aspects of edTPA, though the means largely cluster around uncertain, which provides particular insights, including that they may not have known enough about the assessment and its contents to make judgments.
With newness, lack of familiarity is inevitable, and professional development should be provided for cooperating teachers that builds understanding of edTPA in order to better support teacher candidates.
During student teaching, supervisors should support teacher candidates through the use of both formative and summative assessments (Soslau and Rath 2017).
However, the findings of this study show supervisors had concerns about feedback constraints, particularly lack of specificity.
The supervisors possessed expertise they wanted to share with the inexperienced teachers-in-training who needed support, but due to edTPA restrictions the teacher candidates were not able to benefit from this knowledge.
Given these restrictions, coupled with the cooperating teachers’ lack of knowledge of the assessment, it appears important education experts during the student teaching experience were available to the teacher candidates yet not accessible in terms of support for edTPA.
This finding related to inaccessibility adds to the extant research and highlights the concern that teacher preparation is a highly individualized process, and using a standardized outcome measure involving outsourcing of scoring puts teacher preparation at risk for becoming too uniform and removes personalized relationships with education experts, such as university supervisors and cooperating teachers.
All stakeholders recognized the beneficial aspects of teacher candidates engaging in edTPA, specifically the cyclical process of planning, teaching, and assessing, with accompanying analysis aimed at improvement, similar to the findings of others (Clayton 2018; Heil and Berg 2017; Paugh et al. 2018).
These elements were lauded as central to effective teaching, but the pervading stress induced by edTPA clouded an appreciative view.
Another perceived affordance of edTPA was the compelled implementation of university course learning in placement classrooms, a way in which the findings add to the extant literature. The data show an increased urgency for teacher candidates to work through the challenges of planning and implementing instruction that is different from common practices of placement classrooms.
An inadvertent outcome of edTPA may be better connections between university course learning and classroom practice, with compelled application better than none at all.
Student teaching is largely considered teacher candidates’ most impactful experience during teacher preparation (Brown, Lee, and Collins 2015), and TPAs, such as edTPA, have caused the student teaching experience to change.
Similar to the claims of others (Chandler-Olcott and Fleming 2017; Greenblatt 2015; Paugh et al. 2018), the findings of this study show edTPA as monopolizing the student teaching experience, requiring significant thought, effort, and time.
The teacher candidates were prioritizing the navigation of edTPA processes and requirements over learning how to become reflective and skilled teachers during student teaching.
Teacher candidates were focused on passing edTPA, with a need for more energy to be directed toward learning how to be an effective teacher and making connections with students. Balancing the demands of edTPA with other assignments and outside commitments was challenging for teacher candidates.
Though stakeholders recognized the benefits of edTPA’s expectations, the survey and interview data reveal views that the assessment was not a fair measure of teaching effectiveness, with this finding adding to the extant literature.
This survey item is teacher candidates’ lowest mean score, and of the 20 stakeholders interviewed, 15 shared this view.
The survey data show the teacher candidates generally did not believe edTPA made them better teachers or was useful.
All in all, these issues point to questions about the educative value of edTPA.
Though all stakeholder groups expressed stress about edTPA, for the academic year of these teacher candidates, 99% passed the assessment.
This study illuminates significant concerns about edTPA, including those related to its dual role as both formative and summative assessment, with student teaching becoming immediately and prematurely high stakes.
Further, the findings bring into question the assessment’s one-size -fits-all approach, mandated use in some states, and outsourcing of scoring that is removed from context.
Further, important results as to what edTPA cannot capture when it comes to teaching effectiveness, such as the development of the whole child, should give pause to its whole-hearted acceptance.
It is imperative that policymakers carefully consider concerns such as these when mandating a TPA with such far-reaching and serious consequences.

Brown, A. L., J. Lee, and D. Collins. 2015. “Does Student Teaching Matter? Investigating Pre-service Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy and Preparedness.” Teaching Education 26 (1): 77–93.
Chandler-Olcott, K., S. M. Fleming, and J. L. Nieroda. 2016. “Perhaps These are Not Poetic Times at All: Using Poetry to Cope with and Critique a High-Stakes Teacher Performance Assessment.” English Education 48 (3): 237–266.
Clayton, C. D. 2018. “Policy Meets Practice in New York State: Understanding Early edTPA Implementation through Preservice Candidates’ Eyes.” Teacher Education Quarterly 45 (3): 97–125.
Greenblatt, D., and K. E. O’Hara. 2015. “Buyer Beware: Lessons Learned from edTPA Implementation in New York State.” Teacher Education Quarterly 42 (2): 57–67.
Heil, L., and M. H. Berg. 2017. “Something Happened on the Way to Completing the edTPA: A Case Study of Teacher Candidates’ Perceptions of the edTPA.” Contributions to Music Education 42: 181–199.
Paugh, P., K. B. Wendell, C. Power, and M. Gilbert. 2018. “It’s Not that Easy to Solve: EdTPA and Preservice Teacher Learning.” Teaching Education 29 (2): 147–164.
Soslau, E., and J. Rath. 2017. “Problems in Student Teaching.” Journal of Teaching and Learning 11 (1): 20–28.
Yin, R. K. 2014. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. 

Updated: Sep. 23, 2021