Rigor Is in the Measure, Not in the Pass Rate

Rigor has become a ubiquitous buzzword in education circles describing accountability measures for both educator and student performance. Under a scrutinizing lens, policy makers, researchers, and practitioners are examining whether standards for learning, methods of instruction, and assessment instruments are demanding enough to produce students who are college and career-ready by the end of high school.

In educator preparation, we think of program rigor in terms of productivity measures and indicators relative to the knowledge, skills, and dispositions acquired by our candidates. Our commitment to rigor is characterized by the pursuit of precise, accurate, exhaustive, and scientific measurement of teacher candidates’ ability to be effective educators.

It is important to recognize, however, that rigorous assessment does not equate with more and harder assessment—although many people, including critics of edTPA, seem to believe that a rigorous assessment is evidenced by a high incidence of failure and a low success rate. Instead, we should associate rigor with high-level learning opportunities and growth. An educative experience highlighting both learners’ and programs’ strengths and weaknesses, edTPA is an apt and rigorous tool for supporting candidates’ and their preparation programs’ continuous improvement.

Formerly known as the Teacher Performance Assessment, edTPA is a new evidence-based assessment designed to evaluate preservice teachers’ readiness to effectively teach their subject matter in diverse classroom environments. edTPA includes a range of Embedded Signature Assessments (ESAs)—distinctive, formative assignments embedded in course work—which equip candidates with essential skills and knowledge needed for clinical practice.  By the time candidates complete the summative assessment component of edTPA, they will have engaged in a series of developmental steps and targeted interventions that ultimately support most candidates in achieving success—not failure.

Candidates submit a portfolio of authentic artifacts consisting of lesson plans, student work samples, analyses of student learning, reflective commentaries, and a video component representing “teaching in action.” This portfolio is evaluated as a summative, capstone assessment of candidates’ readiness to teach. It demonstrates candidates’ understanding and application of theoretical concepts, principles of the discipline, and pedagogical skills during a clinical field experience.

Outcome data collected from edTPA support a formative, developmental process in which teacher preparation programs can better align courses and clinical experiences with parallel tasks that scaffold learning and ultimately reinforce candidates’ mastery of teaching. edTPA engages preservice teachers in reflective practice and requires them to demonstrate essential literacy and analytic skills. Through an in-depth process of inquiry, candidates demonstrate a meaningful and contextualized understanding of their praxis by making evaluative judgments and relevant connections between student learning and their instructional practice.

Following extensive efforts to form professional consensus on what well-prepared new teachers should know and be able to do, over 400 institutions in 29 states have already unified around these teaching dimensions by integrating edTPA into their current preservice assessments and licensure requirements. edTPA maintains integrity through rigorous standards of teaching that are valid, reliable, and aligned with Common Core State Standards, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education standards, and Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium standards.

Teacher educators, researchers, and practitioners will recognize that rigor is embedded throughout edTPA’s five dimensions of teaching, 15 analytic rubrics, intensive training of qualified reviewers, and formative feedback provided to teacher candidates:

Rigorous dimensions of teaching. Once candidates submit their subject-specific evidence for edTPA, their portfolios are evaluated and scored across five critical dimensions of teaching: (1) planning instruction and assessment, (2) instructing and engaging students in learning, (3) assessing student learning, (4) analysis of teaching effectiveness, and (5) academic language development. These dimensions capture a detailed picture of teacher readiness that can only be described as rigorous.

Rigorous review process and rubrics. Stanford University researchers designed 15 subject-specific analytic rubrics and developed an online training system for qualified reviewers. Extensive criteria for vetting reviewers include content-area expertise, recent teaching experience, and mentorship of novice teachers. To ensure inter-rater reliability, scorers undergo intensive calibration training consisting of coding and scoring candidate submissions using edTPA rubrics. Through a blind-peer review process and training that promotes the fair and consistent use of analytic rubrics, edTPA minimizes arbitrary and subjective judgments regarding candidates’ skills, attributes, and competencies.

Rigorous, formative feedback. edTPA is a summative assessment, but by probing candidates’ strengths and weaknesses through a careful evaluation of evidence, reviewers also inform candidates’ professional growth. Feedback is provided in the form of individual candidate scores and a narrative profile of candidate performance. edTPA has the potential not only to advance candidates’ instructional practice, but to drive program change through evidence-based decision making that can ultimately strengthen course, curriculum, and clinical experiences for future educators.

In short, edTPA provides an opportunity for teacher preparation programs to demonstrate their effectiveness and for teacher candidates to demonstrate their readiness to be successful in PK-12 classrooms. The assessment is a useful data source that supports the future success of educators and schools of education. We need not be apprehensive of rigorous standards and accountability measures; they are not designed to make us fail. Rather, the field of education should expect rigor to permeate all teaching and learning experiences—as is clearly the case with edTPA.


Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE