Get to Know the edTPA: An Interview with Rebekah Stathakis

Get to Know the edTPA: An Interview with Rebekah Stathakis

By Rebekah Stathakis and Charles Stone

At Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Education Program (MSEd), we are always striving to improve how we prepare teachers for success. Teacher candidate assessment is a fundamental part of that process. Earlier this fall, we talked with Rebekah Stathakis (BS02), Northwestern alumna and MSEd staff member, about a new assessment, the edTPA portfolio. 


1. What, Rebekah, is your role in the MSEd Program?

I am excited to be the new licensure portfolio (edTPA) coordinator for the MSEd Program!  I am planning scaffolds and supports to help all of our teacher candidates successfully complete their portfolios.  For example, I am running information sessions this fall so that teacher candidates can begin to think about and plan for their portfolios while they are still in the practicum. I am also planning some other sessions and workshop times for the winter quarter. My goal is to help our teacher candidates really benefit from the process of completing their portfolios; I think it is a wonderful opportunity to reflect deeply on our practice as teachers. I also coordinated our local assessment of the portfolios from last year and will work on the assessment and analysis of the portfolios this year.

2. So…What exactly is edTPA?

The edTPA is a performance-based assessment that aims to measure if a teacher candidate is adequately prepared to begin teaching effectively.  Teacher candidates prepare a portfolio based on a 3-5 day lesson sequence.  The portfolio consists of three main tasks: planning, instruction and assessment.  The teacher candidate submits artifacts and writes a commentary reflecting on the lesson sequence and analyzing student assessment data.  edTPA is intended to be an opportunity for teacher candidates to authentically demonstrate what they have learned about teaching by putting into practice in a real context.

3. Who created it?

edTPA (formerly called “Teacher Performance Assessment”) was developed by Stanford University and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

4. Why is this a part of Northwestern University’s MSEd Program?

Beginning in the fall of 2015, in order for teacher candidates to be licensed to teach in Illinois, they will need to successfully complete the edTPA.  Like other universities in the state, Northwestern has been working to implement the edTPA into our courses and teacher education program as we prepare for full implementation next year.

Furthermore, I believe that the edTPA can be another tool to help our teacher candidates reflect meaningfully about their lesson design, instruction, and student assessments.  This capstone experience should be an educative process for our candidates.  I hope that by working through the portfolio, candidates will learn about themselves as educators. They will have a better sense of their strengths and the areas that they want to focus on in the future. 

5. How does it affect student teaching?

This year and next year, our student teachers will continue to do exactly what they have in the past.  They will design instructional units, implement those units, and assess their students.  The edTPA will not require our students to change what they were already doing in the classroom.  Now, with the edTPA, our student teachers will need to focus very specifically on one, three-five lesson sequence since this will be the focus of the edTPA.  The student teachers will reflect deeply on their planning, instruction and assessment during that sequence by completing a written commentary. 

6. In the past, MSEd has had supervisors hired by the program to support and assess student teachers.  Does the edTPA portfolio replace them?

Absolutely not!  The edTPA is one assessment that should compliment a variety of sources of feedback at Northwestern.  As part of the edTPA, teacher candidates have to describe what type of feedback and assessment they give their students.  In order to reach the scores of “proficient” or “advanced,” our teacher candidates need to plan a variety of assessments throughout their lessons.  The assessments that our candidates plan should engage their students in authentic tasks and there should be meaningful feedback that will help students learn and deepen their understandings.

At Northwestern, we are holding ourselves to this same standard in terms of assessment! Throughout the practicum and student teaching, all of our instructors and supervisors are planning assessments and providing feedback to help our teacher candidates learn and develop their skills.  Supervisors will certainly continue observing our teacher candidates and will continue reflecting with them to help them hone their skills and deepen their understandings.  The edTPA does not replace any of these other sources of feedback but should provide additional information and another opportunity for reflection.

7. Does it ask for different things from elementary and secondary candidates?

All candidates engage in the same type of activities for the edTPA (planning, instruction and assessment).  Secondary candidates will need to submit 3 tasks; elementary candidates complete a fourth task that is related to Math Assessment.  However, the structure and requirements are very similar for all candidates. Additionally, although each secondary discipline (e.g. English) has a different content-area focus, all teacher candidates complete the same basic process and are evaluated in the same way. 

8. How is the edTPA portfolio assessed?

The edTPA includes a set of rubrics for planning, instruction, and assessment (elementary candidates also have a math assessment task).  For each rubric, a candidate can earn a score from 1 (emerging) to 5 (advanced). 

9. Who assesses the edTPA portfolios?

This year, the Northwestern edTPA portfolios with be locally assessed.  Faculty, instructors, and staff members will meet together for training and scoring practice.  Once they have completed the training, our team will double-score all of the portfolios.  If the scores for any of the subcomponents differ by more than one point, the portfolio will be scored by a third reader.

After this year, the portfolio will be both locally assessed and submitted to Pearson for evaluation. Pearson has a team of scorers that have gone through extensive training and calibration in order to reliably score.  Pearson Scorers must be teachers (preferable National Board Certified) or university instructors or supervisors. 

10. If there is a rubric for the portfolios, will teacher candidates have access to it?

Definitely!  Understanding the rubrics should be a key piece in completing the edTPA.  Our teacher candidates will have access to their subject-area handbooks with the rubrics through the program. There will also be information sessions presented and the rubrics will be discussed at those sessions.

11. Does the student composition (race, gender, ability, etc.) of a teacher candidate’s class affect how he or she will be assessed?

 Part of what I really like about the edTPA is that you have the opportunity to present what you planned for your students and then justify your decisions.  Scorers will look at your materials and the rationale for why you believe that would work well for your students based on their needs, interests, and prior knowledge.  Because this assessment is based on how you plan for your students, I don’t think that there is a benefit or detriment to having a particular class.  If you teach geometry, for example, you are not being compared to other geometry classes. Instead, scorers are seeing how you tailored your instruction for your students and how you planned with them in mind.

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