Reprieve for New York teachers facing ‘bar exam’

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — While more than 80 percent of would-be teachers have passed a newly required “bar exam” to teach in New York classrooms, state education officials on Tuesday adopted a safety net so that those who fail can still receive their teaching certificate.

The Board of Regents voted to let student teachers who fail the edTPA before the end of next June to use a passing score on a separate written test as proof they are ready to teach.

Before the vote, any teacher graduating college after May 1 was going to have to pass the edTPA, which requires student teachers to submit video and written commentary of their teaching.

“This agreement protects students in teacher education programs who followed the rules, successfully completed their teacher preparation programs and feared having their future plans derailed,” said Catalina Fortino, vice president of New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union.

The state Education Department estimates that about 83 percent of the first 1,600 to take the test have passed, but agreed to relax the requirement following backlash to the exam from those who say implementation has been rushed.

Supporters say it is only fair to raise the bar for teachers at a time when students are being challenged by new Common Core learning standards that are changing how and what they learn in class.

For teachers-in-training like college student Franchesca Moreno, the exam meant capping off days in the classroom with hours in the library, reviewing iPad video of herself with her students and writing commentary in response to detailed prompts.

“I’m just hoping I pass,” said Moreno, 21, who worked on the packet for about 10 weeks surrounding a student teaching placement at Bennett Park Montessori School in Buffalo. She expects the results toward the end of May.

Colleges were not able to begin integrating the requirement until after the fall 2012 semester, according to United University Professions, which had asked the state to suspend the mandate.

“We cannot stand by and watch this flawed process move forward that could dramatically undermine the professional futures of thousands of would-be teachers,” said UUP President Frederick Kowal, whose union represents State University of New York faculty.

State officials have said discussions about such a test date to 2010 and that the original 2013 start date already was postponed by a full year.

Under the revised plan, anyone graduating after June 30, 2015, will be required to pass the exam, in addition to the three written tests New York demands for certification, which test general skills and knowledge.

“It’s a good reflection of what teaching is all about, but it’s a bear. It’s a real bear,” said Education Dean Wendy Paterson at the State University of New York’s Buffalo State campus, where Moreno majors in early education. She said some edTPAs have included 50 pages of writing.

The idea of a universal entrance exam for teaching was endorsed in 2012 by the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. A panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended the exam for New York graduates last year.

The edTPA was developed by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity, or SCALE. Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin will require it for certification by 2017, while college campuses in numerous other states are piloting the exam, the developers said.

The test is administered through education company Pearson, which also certifies scorers.

“The edTPA deals with bread-and-butter core abilities that are part of effective teaching,” said Ray Pecheone, executive director of the SCALE center. “It’s focusing on lesson plans, focusing on actual teaching, how teachers assess and evaluate students, the assignments they give their students and the feedback they give their students on their assignments.

“This is what teaching is.”

Students can redo all or part of the exam as many times as necessary, but there is pressure to complete it during a single student-teaching rotation, when classroom access makes re-shooting video possible.

Moreno focused her portfolio on teaching the sequencing words “first, next, then and last.” She had kindergarten students act out a caterpillar’s transformation to a butterfly and write their own examples, like the steps needed to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

She said all of that videotaping and analysis of her own teaching, as onerous as it was, made her a better teacher.

“It was a lot of putting what you learned in college into practice,” she said.

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