Last April, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission rocked the boat for educators by reforming the certification process and its requirements. Most importantly, future educators must pass the Educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) and complete three years of teaching experience to receive a Professional Certificate in Georgia.
“We were introduced to it on the first day,” says Elementary Education major Rebekah DeVries, “Then, people were very angry. Some people were crying…I was thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to be a teacher anymore, but that’s just because it wasn’t all clear.” Future educators feared they wouldn’t qualify for a certificate or an out-of-state career after graduating. “I’m really miffed,” Junior Elementary Education major Katherine Godwin says a semester later, “but I really love my major.”
Now, several months after statewide confusion has settled, Covenant College’s Education department is taking these shifts in stride.
“It is like building a raft while floating down the Mississippi River,” says Dr. Jack Beckman, Education Department Chair. He adds, “We’re navigating waters well, even though the waters are turbulent.”
The statewide tiered system, according to the Commission’s 2014 reform handbook, separates educators into Pre-service, Induction, Professional, and Lead Professional categories. Most Covenant students are in the Pre-service tier. With the new requirements, educators who graduate from a preparatory certificate program and pass the Georgia Ethics Educator Exam are required to teach three years before receiving Professional Certification status. According to DeVries, this development initially alarmed education students, as many thought they could only be certified after teaching in Georgia for three years. However, they were relieved that a Professional Certificate can usually transfer to Georgia from any state.
Few Covenant graduates enter the Georgia school system after graduation, but teach in home states or internationally. Beckman says, “Georgia is primarily interested in producing teachers for Georgia, but Covenant does not match that demographic.” State to state transfers are made possible through what Beckman calls interstate reciprocity. While the transfer’s difficulty varies by state, he says, “the main thing is that our program is a fully accredited pre-service teacher education program” and the transfer can usually occur with few supplementary classes.
Along with existing Georgia Assessments for Certified Educators (GACE), by next September, all education graduates will be required to pass the edTPA while student teaching to receive a Professional Certificate. With new stipulations, teachers will capture lessons and the classes’ response on video. This video, along with written lesson plans and paperwork, will be reported to an examiner trained by Pearson, an international education company, for review and evaluation. According to Beckman, elementary education majors will only be tested in literacy and mathematics.
This year, senior education majors will simply pilot the edTPA system, and the test’s results will not affect their likelihood to receive a Certificate of Eligibility, and later, a Professional Certificate. However, their curriculum is currently being altered to meet the new expectations. Beckman adds that the mid-stream shift creates, “dissonance as a program, but we fully welcome the rigor.” Next year, workshops—known as “bootcamps” at other educational institutions—will be established outside of class time to prepare future educators for the test.
“It’s hard. It’s not fun. It’s a lot of confusing and complicated work,” says DeVreis, “but the department is doing a lot to prepare themselves in order to prepare us.” Godwin says that “I’m not worried, but all of the paper work is just daunting.”
The edTPA has been established or piloted in at least 37 states, but the system is too new to reveal how well the test prepares educators. Along with the success of edTPA, Beckman is also uneasy about its role in the “corporatization of education.” According to Beckman, edTPA was created by Stanford University, but Pearson trains the examiners and is an essential link in the evaluation process. As policy makers continue to push for further utilitarianization, Beckman is afraid that the education system will become “fragmented and disconnected.” However, at state and national conventions, Covenant College continues to paddle upstream and question the reasoning behind these changes. As Beckman says, “we do not feel as though we have to remain silent.”