Ashley Grazutis has been thinking about the edTPA since she arrived at NIU.
“The first time I heard about the edTPA was [as a first-year student] at a Secondary Education Organization meeting,” says Grazutis, a senior from Palos Park, Illinois. “All the rubrics. All the steps. As a [first-year student], I was completely overwhelmed by it.”
Years of diligent preparation nullified any reason for worry, however, as Grazutis aced her edTPA this spring a full year before her expected graduation.
“To plan for my lessons, I would start by writing out the lesson objectives. Then I would write out the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) I was going to hit in the lesson,” she says.
“Next, I would write out the procedure for my lesson – what the students would be going, what I would be doing and how each would accomplish the objectives of the lesson,” she adds. “Finally, I wrote out the assessments I would use to show students’ understanding of context.”
Grazutis is among the first group of Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors to take the edTPA – and to help the NIU College of Education maintain its nearly perfect pass rate.
Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s ability to plan, instruct and assess, is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.
Candidates must submit videos of their actual teaching along with follow-up evidence that their students were learning and achieving. Candidates also must supply examples of further support they provided to students as well as the lessons plans developed after examining the results of the earlier assessment.
Ninety-nine percent of 139 College of Education students who submitted edTPA materials for review this spring passed; that includes all 15 Middle Level majors from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“Our students continue to be well prepared by faculty, well supported by field supervisors and placed with amazing mentor teachers,” says Jenny Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development for the college. “Their high edTPA pass rate is a point of pride for the program areas and for the College of Education but, more importantly, their rating scores continue to demonstrate that our candidates are able to plan, instruct, assess and reflect on student learning.”
For Grazutis, who spent the 2017-18 academic year student-teaching in an eighth-grade biology/earth science classroom at Marlowe Middle School in Huntley School District 158, the edTPA makes sense.
“edTPA helped me to think every step of the way,” Grazutis says.
Designing her unit on the effect of stimulants and depressants on the nervous system in accordance with edTPA guidelines showed her “how to plan for instruction, how to teach the lesson and how to assess,” she says.
“It taught me the sequencing and how it all fits together. It forced me to think about how to hit upon the prior knowledge students have, and cultural connection, or funds of knowledge, students bring to the classroom,” she adds. “Education is all about building relationships.”
She also found within the edTPA an impetus for considering all learners during lesson-planning, making a conscious decision to base her assessment submission on the results of a struggling reader, a gifted student and a student in the middle.
“You don’t want an equal education. You really need to look at your lessons and think, ‘How am I making it equitable for different students in my class?’ ” Grazutis says. “How am I going to push my gifted kids and, within the same lesson, give more-structured support for my ADHD students and my struggling readers as well?”
Her advice to future edTPA submitters is to plan early and “pace yourself. The edTPA is important, but it shouldn’t overwhelm your student-teaching experience.” Accordingly, she devoted Saturdays to the edTPA and spent her Sundays in planning.
Grazutis also attended a helpful workshop led by Judy Boisen, associate director of Educator Licensure and Preparation at NIU, and appreciated discussions about edTPA with her cohort and with her supervisor.
With graduation just under a year away – she also is earning a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Languages and Literatures as well as a bilingual endorsement – she is eager to pay forward her own transformational experience in middle school to future students.
“Middle school is one of those times that is a time to discover. Students are trying to discover themselves, trying to build an identity and doing that with so many changes in their life, like puberty and stronger emotions,” Grazutis says.
“I learned how to be a person in middle school. I learned how to be a hard worker,” she adds. “I believe we are all strongest in our weakest moments, and I want to be able to bring out the strengths in those students. I want to push my students to become the best versions of themselves.”