Bill moves forward that would eliminate ‘heavy’ test for prospective teachers

To become a New Jersey public school teacher, you must earn a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher preparation program, teach students for at least 12 weeks, and pass at least one Praxis exam.

You must also pass a performance-based test called the edTPA, which requires you to hand in a portfolio of lesson plans, video recordings, sample student work, and more.

The test is preventing people from pursuing careers in education — and exacerbating the teacher shortage plaguing schools — according to the dozen or so people who testified before the Senate Education Committee on Monday. The panel voted unanimously to advance a bill (S896) that would prohibit the state from requiring student teachers to complete the edTPA, a move that educators hope will broaden the hiring pool by decrease.

“There is no humanity or dignity in this type of assessment,” said Efrain Monterroso, a first-generation graduate and high school Spanish teacher at East Windsor.

Kathleen Fernandez, executive director of New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages/New Jersey Bilingual Educator, called the test “redundant and prejudicial assessment.”

“The edTPA poses additional hurdles for future teachers because it is a financial, linguistic and cultural barrier,” Fernandez said.

The teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, agrees with this statement. In a letter sent to the state Board of Education and lawmakers last week, the NJEA and eight other organizations urged the committee to remove the edTPA requirement, citing its negative impact on mental health and emotional impact of potential teachers, its financial burden, a lack of transparency in the grading process, and its inability to predict whether the person taking it will become an effective teacher.

Many witnesses said the test had become so taxing on student teachers that classes focused on how to pass it, dominating the teaching experience for students.

It’s bad practice for people pursuing an education as a profession, said Tony Trongone, superintendent of Millville Schools and president-elect of the state superintendents association.

“They’re working backwards to get a passing grade,” Trongone said.

The edTPA costs $300, and Praxis exams can cost an additional $300, according to the NJEA. Suzanne McCotter, dean of the College of New Jersey’s School of Education, said those costs could exclude low-income students and other non-traditional students from teaching as a profession.

“I’ve had students at the end of their four- or five-year program who decided to leave the field because they couldn’t afford to become a teacher,” she says.

After the Senate committee passed the bill on Monday, the crowd of dozens of teachers, school educators and administrators attending the meeting cheered.

A complementary bill to the Assembly was presented in January and has yet to be voted on in committee.

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Edward K. Thompson