After Pilot, 'Bar Exam For Teachers' Set To Launch State-Wide

Sep 24, 2014

UNH students taking part in the Pilot of the new "teachers' test" familiarize themselves with the requirements
Credit Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

As early as next year, college students in New Hampshire teacher preparation programs will be taking a new test. It’s known as the TCAP, and all 14 of the state’s teacher education schools are adopting it voluntarily. While some states have opted to sign on to tests designed elsewhere, the Granite State has blazed its own trail when it comes to creating what has been compared to a bar exam for teachers.

Every student teacher who has graduated from UNH knows about the Portfolio. It was a collection of reams of lesson plans, tests, handouts; the artifacts of teaching.

“All these things you just had to collect, and you turned in a binder. Literally the culmination of your internship experience was just turning in a binder,” says Adam Genovese, who first graduated in 2001 with a degree in secondary education, “And that was the last you saw of the binder.”

Each school does things differently, but the portfolio is a pretty standard practice. And in New Hampshire it’s on its way out.

Meet the TCAP

“What you need to do in this strand is examine plans, identify learning tasks and strategies,” says Bruce Turnquist, a student teacher supervisor, as he lays out one of five ‘strands’ that will comprise the TCAP, or Teacher Candidate Assessment of Performance. He tells the students gathered at a table that they will “video-tape one or more lessons, but then you select it down to one single lesson of around fifteen minutes.”

There are five sections of the TCAP:

·     Make a profile of your students and shows you understand their individual learning needs.

·     Submit a three to five lesson unit, including an instruction and assessment plan.

·     Make a fifteen-minute, unedited video of you teaching the class.

·     Compile exams, classwork, and homework and a commentary showing the trends in student learning.

·     Keep a journal of reflections that shows how you are learning from your teaching.

For some of these UNH elementary education students – some of the guinea pigs in the pilot of the TCAP – it seems overwhelming.

“It’s a lot, and it seems like it’s all coming down at once,” says Racheal Heard, “And I know we’re going to have support to get it done and I know at the end of it it’ll be ok. But right now it’s like ‘Woah! Ok!’”

But students with a bit more perspective don’t think it will be so bad. Adam Genovese, who is switching from teaching high school to elementary school, says it’s not so bad compared to the portfolio “This will actually create some tools that I can take into a teaching career.”

A National Push

What’s going on here is a recognition that’s going on across the country: if we want better schools, we may need to raise the bar for becoming a teacher. Part of that push is to create a test that all teachers have to pass, kind of like the bar exam.

Several of these tests already exist: there’s National Board Certification, California has its own test, and schools in 30 states are piloting a new test called the edTPA.

The problem with signing on to another test, is control over writing and grading it could go out of state.

“Teachers from New Hampshire are then scored by someone from New York city, from Iowa, from California who don’t know local context, who don’t know what’s going on in New Hampshire,” says Emilie Reagan, a UNH professor who has helped develop the TCAP.

"Now you know, consistently across all the institutions, this is what is being accomplished in the end. This is what it looks like what it means to get a New Hampshire certification."

Just like the national tests, every teacher who scores the TCAP will be trained and though professors will be scoring their own students every year, the universities will audit those scores to ferret out any favoritism. And with some modifications the TCAP is based on the tests developed elsewhere.

“We New Hampshire-ized them.” Audrey Rogers, chair of the education department at Southern New Hampshire University, “As a group, now you know consistently across all the institutions, this is what is being accomplished in the end. This is what it looks like what it means to get a New Hampshire certification.”

Representatives of all of New Hampshire’s teaching colleges collaborated to build the TCAP, in a collaboration that they have called in insist they’ve put a lot of thought into how to do this test right.

“It’s a realistic question but it’s sort of a cynical question. You’re keeping your own profession in check, doesn’t that mean you’re going to lower your standards?” says Dianna Gahlsdorf Tarrell from Saint Anselm College, “I guess my simple answer is we want to hold the really high bar because this is why we’re in the line of work that we’re in.”

The TCAP is being piloted by over 270 students in 12 schools this year. 

  **CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that the TCAP is being piloted only at the University of New Hampshire. It is in fact being piloted in the majority of New Hampshire Institutions of Higher Education**