Academic journal article English Education

"Perhaps These Are Not Poetic Times at All": Using Poetry to Cope with and Critique a High-Stakes Teacher Performance Assessment

Academic journal article English Education

"Perhaps These Are Not Poetic Times at All": Using Poetry to Cope with and Critique a High-Stakes Teacher Performance Assessment

Article excerpt

Nikki Giovanni (1996) penned her well-known poem, "For Saundra," in the 1960s when she was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In it, she states that she originally wanted her poem to rhyme, "but revolution doesn't lend / itself to be-bopping." Giovanni's narrator describes a conversation with a neighbor about why she doesn't write on pleasant subjects such as nature, topics she dismisses as untenable given the era's injustice. The text concludes with three wry lines, given that Giovanni has just written a beautiful, provocative poem:

perhaps these are not poetic


at all (p. 59)

During the fall 2013 semester, Kelly1 read "For Saundra" and nearly 20 other poems to preservice English teacher candidates in the seminar they took with her during full-time student teaching. This cohort was the first required to pass the edTPA, a teacher performance assessment, to be eligible for New York certification. Kelly undertook study of the inaugural implementation of this requirement with two co-researchers, Sarah and Janine. Although we began the work with reservations about New York's embrace of a high-stakes assessment administered by a global corporation, we expected our ability to navigate the new mandate with our students and field collaborators would be enhanced by practitioner inquiry (CochranSmith & Lytle, 2009). Two research questions guided the study:

> What are preservice English teacher candidates', mentor teachers', field supervisors', and teacher educators' perspectives on the purpose, design, and implementation of the edTPA as mandated for teacher certification in New York?

> What strategies do these stakeholders use to manage the edTPA process over time?

This article focuses on the second of these two questions (see ChandlerOlcott & Fleming, 2014, for consideration of the first). As we engaged in preliminary analysis focused on the edTPA management strategies used by stakeholders, we encountered this comment in a student's course evaluation for the seminar: "It was important to include poetry, and readings like Christensen's book, Reading, Writing, and Rising Up, because they help to ground us as humans in this experience." The statement struck us as significant, particularly in light of the emotional and relational dimensions of the edTPA process that became salient during the semester, and we decided to mine the data for other transactions with poetry. Our analysis revealed that these data were worth highlighting in their own right, rather than as part of a more comprehensive discussion of stakeholders' strategies.

In this article, then, we chronicle how study participants used the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry to cope with and sometimes critique the edTPA. We provide context for the adoption of this high-stakes assessment and related reform initiatives in New York, as well as review literature on teacher performance assessments in general. We describe our methods and then share our findings about poetry and the edTPA process. After discussing implications, we close with an original poem.

Context and Related Literature

The U.S. educational reform movement has gained momentum in recent years, seeking to address perceived problems in K-12 public education by evaluating and improving teacher quality (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Lewis & Young, 2013). Teacher performance assessments are key to this agenda, with potential models coming from California, which has required teacher candidates to pass performance assessments since 1998. One of these assessments, the Performance Assessment for California Teachers, was designed by staff and faculty associated with the Stanford Center on Assessment, Learning, & Equity (SCALE) in collaboration with representatives from multiple institutions of higher education in the state. In 2013, under the name of edTPA, the assessment was revised and nationally validated through what SCALE calls its "operational" partnership with Pearson Learning (https:// scale. …

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