Tough for Teachers: Certification Overhaul

In Education on July 28, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Currently, there are few people who are unaware of the issues with the common core curriculum and its enactment across the United States. Students are required to sit for hours in a room being tested on information that the teachers themselves are at times only beginning to understand.

Less publicized, however, is the teacher certification process, which is undergoing similar changes revolving around a different set of standardized tests, this time for teachers. Much like parents opting their students out of the tests, prospective teachers are following a similar but more concerning path: they are leaving the profession.

I should know. I am one of them. Last fall, just shy of a semester away from graduating with a Bachelor’s in Childhood Education, I made the decision to withdraw from my major. I had wanted to teach since I was little, but now the profession is no longer what I thought it was.

One consideration while making my decision was the teaching exams. Within the last two years, New York State has mandated that all teaching candidates take the edTPA during their student teaching semester. The edTPA is one of four required exams for teacher certification. It consists of three different parts, a 20-minute video of your teaching, and multiple detailed lesson plans.

Originally the edTPA was only supposed to be used on an experimental basis, and out of the 30 states piloting the exams, Washington was the only other state to make it mandatory. However, Washington’s passing score is significantly lower than New York’s. New York requires a 49 as a minimum passing score for childhood education, while Washington requires a 35 as a minimum passing score.

In a radio interview, Fred Kowal, the president of the United University Professions union for SUNY employees, said the creation of the tests is “political goals merged with profit making.” In the same interview he quoted Commissioner King who said “one of their goals is to cut back on the number of teachers entering the field.” Teaching is a field that is always going to be around, but currently there are far more teachers than there are positions. Kowal goes on to say that one of the ways they are reducing teachers is by undermining the teacher prep and certification programs in schools across New York.  

As a recent drop-out of the School of Education at SUNY Oswego I can attest that the tests had a major impact on my career path. Over the past four years, student enrollment in the School of Education at SUNY Oswego has decreased dramatically. Between Fall 2010 and Fall 2014 the school saw a 43% decrease in enrollment. During the fall of 2010 the school had 1,650 students enrolled. That number dropped to 953 in 2014.

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Alexandra Miletta, a faculty member at Mercy College, states in an interview “[The teaching] Exams that lack requisite validity from pilot testing and analysis, with unreasonably high cut scores, have created financial hardship and low morale, and have little to do with the goals and values of improving teaching and learning.”

A personal friend, Kiersten Beckford, who finished the edTPA last semester at The College of Saint Rose puts it this way:I don’t think that the edTPA is preparing us for teaching after graduation because we focus on what the graders want to see more than being creative and unique with our teaching.”

The tests are supposed to help teacher candidates prepare for teaching in the “real world,” when in reality all they do is monopolize the teaching candidate’s time in the classroom. The teaching candidates should be consulting with their mentoring teacher on every aspect of classroom life in depth. But, instead they are too focused on gathering needed information so that they can pass the test.

Lisa Fyvie, a teaching candidate who graduated from Alfred University last spring with her Bachelors in Childhood Education concurs: “I do feel the edTPA is taking away from the student teaching experience. Students are creating lessons specific for the edTPA instead of creating lessons that correspond with their daily ELA instruction.”

Ironically, the spirit of the edTPA’s administration counters what authentic education is all about — learning — since there is no way for students who fail the first time to know how to successfully make corrections to pass later. The students are provided with mentors who are supposed to assist them in creating correct responses to the questions that the edTPA asks, but these mentors are severely limited in the assistance that they can provide. The only support that the mentors can provide is telling you what general sections need work, not what is wrong within the section. Teaching is a learning profession from the time you begin until the time you retire. How are prospective teachers supposed to learn if the mentors assigned to the students can’t tell them what they specifically need to correct?

Another important way that new testing is deterring potential teachers is the financial burden that it presents. The first time that a student submits the edTPA it costs them $300. The other three tests that a candidate needs to take for certification cost $100 each. That is $600, on top of their schooling costs. Before all of the changes that were made the certification tests cost $300. If a candidate doesn’t pass the exams the first time they have to pay to take the tests again. Many prospective teachers have incurred certification costs over $1,000 due to the number of times they needed to retake the exams.

Teaching is not a linear profession. It is constantly changing and shifting, requiring teachers to be creative and adaptive. Current certification tests for teachers force students to think in a narrowly linear way and adhere to a strict set of structured guidelines that remove all creativity from teaching. The prospective teachers who are successful are the ones who are able to conform to the strict standards that are presented, regardless of teaching ability. This isn’t real teaching or learning. And it’s certainly not what I hoped to go into the profession for.

Stephanie Bailey

Spring 2015 Graduate, SUNY-Oswego, Bachelor of Arts in English

Editor’s Note:  Stephanie wrote her article under the guidance of Professor Michael Murphy in SUNY-Oswego’s ENG-485 class.  Indy Media CNY is proud to work with young writers and activists to provide an outlet for their progressive voices. Please contact us directly at to make arrangements for your classroom work to be considered for publication and distribution.  Stephanie’s article comes at the same time that NYSUT published an article in the July/August issue of NYSUT United by Darryl McGrath titled Teacher Certification Exams Under Microscope.  In the article, McGrath discusses the struggles of students such as Stephanie, as well as the latest campaign news from allies and critical audiences in their continued call for an investigation into the teacher certification process.


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