Research casts doubt on proposed legislation ending teaching performance assessments

The bill to retire the Teaching Performance Assessment will be heard next by Assembly education committees.

Credit: AP Photo/Terry Chea

A bill wending its way through the California State Legislature could remove a valuable tool to evaluate teacher preparation programs, according to research conducted by the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization headed by State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond.

Senate Bill 1263, sponsored by the California Teachers Association, would do away with teaching performance assessments (TPA), which require teachers to demonstrate competence via video clips of classroom instruction, lesson plans, student work and written reflections on their practice before they can earn a preliminary teaching credential.

The legislation could also remove the last test that teachers are required to take to prove they are prepared to teach.

Supporters of the bill say the assessments are expensive and stressful for teacher candidates, duplicate other requirements they must fulfill to enter the profession, are ineffective at preparing teachers for the classroom and result in fewer people becoming teachers — especially people of color.

TPA data could help improve preparation

Recent research from the Learning Policy Institute offers another view. It found that candidates who passed the TPA were more likely to be in programs that offered better preparation and more support. Eliminating TPAs would make it difficult to know which programs need support from the state. Instead, the assessment data could be better used to strengthen preparation statewide, it concluded.

“This research was an attempt to understand what may explain that variation and found that certain types of preparation experiences are associated with better performance on a TPA,” said Susan Kemper Patrick, the author of the study.  

“Overall, preservice candidates were more likely to be successful on a TPA compared to internship candidates. Candidates attending programs offering certain types of support and preparation experiences were also more likely to be successful on a TPA.”

The Learning Policy Institute study does not examine the relationship between passing rates on the TPA and teacher performance or student achievement. California doesn’t typically tie student achievement to teacher identifiers. 

Teacher candidates are currently required to pass either the California Teaching Performance Assessment (CalTPA), the Educative Teaching Performance Assessment (edTPA) or the Fresno Assessment of Student Teachers (FAST).

A previous narrowly focused study of the Performance Assessment for California Teachers — the precursor of the edTPA — indicated that scores on that test predicted student achievement gains, according to the report. Research from other states has also shown that scores on teaching performance assessments can predict teaching effectiveness. 

The assessment is usually completed during student teaching, residencies or internships, allowing candidates and their preparation programs to identify strengths and weaknesses in instruction, according to the policy institute study. 

“I feel like that (the report) sort of documents what we already suspected, which is that teacher credential programs vary in quality, and we know that there are some that are not doing a very good job of preparing teachers to teach.”

Brian Rivas, Education Trust-West

Learning Policy Institute researchers analyzed surveys taken by 18,455 candidates who had completed a teacher preparation program and had taken a teaching performance assessment between Sept. 1, 2021 and Aug. 31, 2023. They found that passing rates on the assessments varied across teacher preparation programs. During the two-year period, nearly two-thirds of the 263 programs analyzed had more than 90% of their tested candidates pass the assessment, and 23% had all candidates pass. Fourteen programs had passing rates under 67%. 

Two-thirds of the people surveyed, who had completed teacher preparation programs to teach elementary and secondary school, reported feeling well- or very well-prepared for their TPA, 22% felt adequately prepared and 11% felt they were not prepared. The more prepared candidates felt, the higher their TPA passing rates.  

Some have called the performance assessment a barrier to a diverse teacher workforce, but the policy institute research shows that disparities in passage rates by race and ethnicity are minimal. There were no significant differences in pass rates by race and ethnicity in programs with passing rates above 90%, according to the report.

“I feel like that (the report) sort of documents what we already suspected, which is that teacher credential programs vary in quality, and we know that there are some that are not doing a very good job of preparing teachers to teach,” said Brian Rivas, senior director of policy and government for the Education Trust-West, a social justice and advocacy organization.

Rivas expressed concern that, without a teacher performance assessment, educators who attended low-performing preparation programs will end up teaching the state’s most vulnerable students.

“We think because of the turnover in low-income communities and communities serving students of color, that they are going to be more likely to be taught by the teachers that are not really prepared fully to teach,” he said.

Currently, TPA passage rates are tracked by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which offers staff support to programs with low passing rates through the accreditation process. Instead of eliminating the assessment, the report calls for more resources and opportunities for improvement for teachers and programs. 

Bill to end TPA to be heard by Assembly

SBill 1263 has passed the state Senate and will next be heard in the Assembly committees on education and higher education. The legislation, as amended, also eliminates the requirement that teachers pass an exam proving reading instruction proficiency.

It is the latest in a long line of legislation to reduce the number of assessments teachers have to take to earn a credential. In July 2021, legislators gave teacher candidates the option to take approved coursework instead of the California Basic Education Skills Test, or CBEST, or the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET. 

Last summer, legislators passed SB 488, which replaced the unpopular Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, also known as RICA, with a literacy performance assessment. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing has developed the assessment over the last year with the help of a work group of literacy experts. 

In January’s tentative budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed eliminating the CBEST and allowing the completion of a bachelor’s degree to satisfy the state’s basic skills requirement. If it is passed in the budget, and SB 1263 becomes law, candidates will no longer have to take a licensure test to become a credentialed teacher. 

 “A survey of more than 1,000 educators showed strong consensus that the TPAs do not help in preparing educators for the classroom,” said Leslie Littman, California Teachers Association vice president. 

“What does help to prepare educators is collaborating in classrooms with mentor teachers, working with clinical support supervisors, and quality teacher preparation programs. In fact, elements from this latest study from LPI underscore the value of teacher preparation programs including clinical support and content-specific preparation.”

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