Safe to Practice: Getting Teacher Prep Right

Every profession, from medicine to accounting to engineering, has to determine what it means for a professional to be “safe to practice.” To become a professional, you must demonstrate that you can practice safely.

I recently returned from the National edTPA Conference, where we discussed how to implement a performance assessment for pre-service teachers. Keynote speaker Deborah Lowenberg Ball presented on creating a profession in which beginning teachers are “safe to practice.”

The edTPA developers at Stanford (SCALE) refer to this standard as “ready to teach.” This edTPA is based on the principal that we should determine this before we let teacher candidates become teachers of record.

Determining who should be allowed into the teaching profession is a difficult task given the complexity of the job. But shouldn’t all potential teachers be required to demonstrate competency with students in a transparent way before they enter the profession?

I will be the first to admit that many teacher preparation programs inadequately prepare teachers for classroom realities. We need to be reasonable about what beginning practice looks like, of course. But it certainly seems appropriate to use common-sense measures of readiness: Can teachers plan, instruct, assess, reflect, and connect to theory to practice?

SCALE recently released results of a validation study that demonstrated how the edTPA is working toward this end. SCALE is recommending to states to set the bar for passing at no higher than 42 out of 75 – a cut score that only 58% of teacher candidates would have attained in the pilot.

The edTPA does not expect teachers to be experts in their first years—but to be competent and qualified. The edTPA is predicated on high leverage teaching strategies, that must not become overly prescriptive, that beginning professionals should demonstrate.

How will the edTPA work for organizations like Teach For America? In five weeks of summer training, how will TFA ensure that their teachers are “safe to practice?”

The SCALE Director of the edTPA shared that in some states Teach For America candidates will only be asked to take the edTPA at the end of their two-year commitments as teachers of record. In other words, we will determine if these teachers are “safe to practice” only after they’ve been practicing for two years – which, by the way, is the point at which more than half of them will decide to exit the classroom.

No other profession operates that way—not even for individuals with bachelor’s degrees from Ivy League institutions.

The edTPA is not perfect, nor is any teacher preparation route. However, placing students of beginning professionals at the center of the discussion should be a move in the right direction.

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