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edTPA: Rigor and Results

How edTPA Accelerated My Preparation as a Pre-Service Teacher.

By Stephanie Wittenbrink

I always wanted to be a teacher. I played teacher growing up, and volunteered in high school with younger children. Four years ago, I was excited to begin my teacher preparation at Western Washington University, but I didn’t know I would be a member of the school’s first class of teacher candidates to experience edTPA—a new performance assessment process that grew from a recently adopted statewide requirement.

As a student member of the NEA Board of Directors, the idea of a classroom-based, pre-service assessment was not new to me. NEA has promoted this idea for a long time. But I hadn’t anticipated the incredibly hard work and radical perspective shift that would help to prepare me as I rode the often-bumpy wave of that first edTPA class.

I began my student teaching internship for my special education endorsement in March 2012 already assigned to three learning-support English classes and a learning strategies lab at a local high school. How, I wondered, would I also complete the required portfolio of lesson plans, video tape instruction, and compose near-daily reflections on what I learned about my students, their learning, and how I had adjusted lesson plans accordingly?

None of us—the institution, student teachers, or supervising teachers—knew much about edTPA.  We were all learning.

By the end, I was better prepared to teach because of the steps required by edTPA. For example, I immediately reviewed student IEPs to begin the first round of edTPA reflections, became familiar with students’ backgrounds, and developed plans to support new students.

My supervising teacher—she had worked with other student teachers, but none who had gone through edTPA—was impressed that I videotaped my teaching. She wanted to know more, asking about the vocabulary reviews and pre-assessments, and noticing that I relied on student input to track their progress—part of a state requirement to incorporate “student voice” into instruction and assessment.

edTPA taught me to reflect, analyze, and examine where students were at that moment so I could understand what I was doing, and how students were progressing and adjust instruction accordingly. At the end of the process I submitted my video, work samples, and responses to prompts that required me to justify and explain my teaching. Passing scores validated my efforts.

Additional validation of edTPA’s value came this fall when I began a second round of student teaching in a first-grade classroom for my credential in elementary education. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. Instead, edTPA made me go deeper in my planning, reflect on my teaching, and use data to inform my instruction. I am achieving my goal as a teacher: helping students.

More than ever, I agree with NEA’s position that we need a classroom-based pre-service assessment that focuses on pedagogy, not just content. All student teachers should complete such a classroom- and performance-based assessment. The field needs it and students deserve it.

Stephanie Wittenbrink is a Washington Educa­tion Association Student Board member and former NEA Board of Directors member.

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