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Illinois Senate OK’s Measure Undoing Mandated Student Teacher Videos For Licensure

Courtesy of School District U-46

Illinois Lawmakers are advancing a proposal that nixes the mandate on student teachers to film themselves in the classroom as part of their evaluation for teacher licensure.

For years, Illinois schools have struggled to recruit qualified candidates due in part to a nationwide teacher shortage. Some state lawmakers place partial blame on a performance assessment for student teachers known as edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment).

Back in 2011, the General Assembly passed a number of licensure requirements for new teacher candidates, including what came to be the edTPA assessment.

The assessment requires candidates — who begin their teacher preparation program after September 2015 — to develop a portfolio during their student teaching experience that includes copies of original lesson plans, student work samples, and video recordings of candidates teaching in the classroom.

But a decade since implementing edTPA, lawmakers have made several attempts to amend or abolish the assessment.

Last month, State Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) advocated for a proposal which would have removed the assessment as a licensure requirement. Scherer said she had talked to multiple stakeholders who shared stories of candidates obsessing more over their edTPA score than their student teaching performance, and others who were unable to teach due to the assessment.

“I've had regional superintendents who have told me that they've actually had to resort to telling students, ‘Go to a neighboring state and get your degree or do one of the online [programs] that don't require the edTPA, and then I will promise to give you a job when you come back to Illinois,’” Scherer said. “That's with the prayer that they want to come back, because we all know that once they leave they may never come back.”

One of those regional superintendents is Kyle Thompson, who heads the eleventh ROE district, a region that includes seven counties in eastern Illinois. Thompson said he has had to deal with teacher applicants failing the edTPA assessment multiple times.

Thompson recalled advising a soon-to-be science teacher to obtain her license in neighboring Indiana to make up for a failed edTPA score she received from an Illinois program.

“These are people who want to be teachers,” Thompson said. “They're going through the university coursework for four years or more, they're in classrooms, they're student teaching, and then we're denying them at the very end.”

He said considering the long-running teacher shortage, easing the edTPA is better than filling classrooms with long-term substitute teachers.

“We have teachers in the classroom that have no degree,” Thompson said“They’re subs, there's no content degree. I mean, would we rather have somebody who's gone through the university coursework at least?”

However, advocates of the portfolio-based assessment claim there is little connection between the teacher shortage and the edTPA format — particularly given the high pass rate.

“The issues that we were seeing in the teacher pipeline are on the front end and they're not on the back end in the edTPA,” Chicago Public Schools’ state legislative affairs manager G. Tito Quiñones said. “We lose a lot more on the front end from recruiting high school students to go into the teaching field and making sure that college is affordable for these teacher candidates when they're in school.”

Groups like education non-profit Advance Illinois are proponents of the edTPA model. In multiple committee hearings on the subject, Advance Illinois President Robin Steans said performance assessments do a better job of evaluating a candidate’s mastery of pedagogy and classroom management than a traditional pencil-and-paper test.

“It's an incredibly complex job, and it is not one that just anybody can walk off the street and do,” Steans said. “What you want to know is not only the teachers know their material, but they know how to instruct their classrooms.”

The Illinois State Board of Education also supports performance-based assessments as a helpful indicator of a candidate's ability to take on the responsibilities of a teacher, and note that at least 90% of candidates earn passing scores.

Amanada Elliott, a legislative liaison for ISBE, referenced the work of the Licensure Capstone Assessment Working Group. Last year, the taskforce — which was made up of edTPA advocates and opponents — recommended its continuance in the teacher licensure process.

“Their recommendation wasn't a resounding ‘Yes, edTPA is the be-all, end-all and this is the assessment that's the answer.’” Elliott said. “It’s, ‘This is what we have available, there is not a viable alternative at this time.’”

Elliott said ISBE will continue studying the issue, and may eventually develop an alternative assessment like other states. But she said that would take time and financial investment from the state.

Although neither Scherer’s proposal or an identical bill in the Senate failed to make it out of committee, one proposal that has moved forward would no longer require candidates videotape their lessons during student teaching.

The proposal's chief sponsor, State Sen. Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines) said a small collection of handpicked videos don’t fully capture a teacher’s capabilities.

“You can slice, and dice, and cut, and manipulate and often that teacher that has the best [audiovisual] skills submits the best video,” Murphy said. “Is that really reflective of their performance? No, it's reflective of their AV skills and it's not a really great measure of teacher performance.”

Murphy also said because these videos are sent to third-party vendors for analysis, she has heard of instances where recordings of teacher candidates and students are leaked online.

“Unfortunately, students in special ed. seem to have a disproportionate number of breaches so that their videos wind up on YouTube and all over the Internet,” Murphy said.

Advocates of videotaping argue it’s helpful for teacher candidates to be able to observe their own performance and reflect on possible improvements, but Murphy said teacher preparation programs could still incorporate video recordings into the curriculum, without requiring them for licensure purposes.

Murphy’s bill passed out of the Senate last week and could be heard on the House floor later this spring.

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.
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