Practicing Everyday Advocacy in the Context of Teacher Performance Assessments
by Christine M. Dawson and Anny Fritzen Case
As teacher educators, we have found that helping preservice teachers navigate performance assessments (e.g., the edTPA or the Danielson Framework for Teaching) is challenging, especially while they are also immersed in the messy work of learning to teach. During student teaching, preservice teachers are actively building a repertoire of classroom practices, learning about their students and contexts, participating in their classroom communities, and taking on increasing instructional roles. Teacher performance assessments add to this complexity, asking them to articulate their professional choices to an external audience. We have worked to deliberately reframe teacher performance assessments in our teacher preparation programs, to use them to introduce Everyday Advocacy strategies such as analyzing an audience, clarifying and articulating a message, and aligning claims with evidence.
Reframing Teacher Performance Assessments as Advocacy Practice
Teacher performance assessments can be anxiety-producing for beginning teachers, who may fear a faceless assessor’s power over their access to certification. Yet we are unwilling to engage in “test-prep” approaches, especially as we seek to model the kinds of instruction we hope our preservice teachers will carry into their own classrooms. Consequently, we deliberately frame teacher performance assessments as opportunities for preservice teachers to practice advocating for their advancement and choices.
Because teacher performance assessments are often linked to high stakes outcomes, many preservice teachers feel a sense of vulnerability when anticipating, preparing for, and composing materials for their assessments. We recognize the vulnerability inherent in these situations, but we also emphasize the significance of teachers intentionally advocating for their practice, with a given audience, in light of their own goals and commitments.
Learning to Read an Audience: Analyzing Priorities and Values
Teachers interact with a wide variety of audiences: they prepare lessons to engage students, communicate with families and guardians, collaborate with colleagues, and articulate priorities and decisions to administrators. Some of these audiences have considerable power in teachers’ professional lives, evaluating performance and determining professional opportunities. Different audiences value and prioritize different things, so “reading” an audience is a critical component of Everyday Advocacy.
Teacher performance assessments offer an opportunity for preservice teachers to practice interpreting an audience’s values and priorities. Guiding questions and rubrics that are associated with specific assessment tools actually provide useful information about the assumptions, beliefs, and values held by the designers and scorers. We begin with the assumption that the audience of an assessment is knowable, and that understanding that audience can empower us to better advocate for our professional choices. For example, Task 1 of the edTPA requires preservice teachers to explain the instructional focus of a lesson sequence, as well as how well this focus aligns with their planned teaching/learning strategies and assessments. From these questions, preservice teachers can infer that the edTPA audience values the basic principles of backwards design.
Assessment rubrics provide preservice teachers with additional information, detailing how their audience will actually interpret evidence from their teaching. By analyzing the rubrics, we guide our preservice teachers to ask themselves, “What does my audience value?”, which we may assume would represent criteria for a “passing” score. To help our preservice teachers make these connections clear, we ask them to collaboratively complete graphic organizers that connect the commentary questions, rubric language, and what they can infer about audience values/beliefs from each (for example, see the first four columns of Figure 1).
As we deconstruct the materials associated with teacher performance assessments, we also ask our preservice teachers, “To what extent do these criteria and values represent who you are and what you believe about teaching?” Finding common ground with their audience may help preservice teachers take greater ownership over their message. Although many important elements of teaching are not adequately represented in teacher performance assessment prompts, materials, or rubrics, our candidates most often agree with core elements represented in the assessments.
Figure 1: Graphic organizer to practice audience analysis
Language from prompt (What is this question asking me?)
Language from rubric (What are expectations for a “passing” score?)
What does this audience value (based on the question and rubric language)?
What claim do I want to make to this audience, about this aspect of my teaching?
What evidence can I provide to support my claim?
How do I use knowledge of student abilities and interests to inform planning?
Planning includes evidence of response to students’ prior learning and interests/ assets
Student-centered approaches; new instruction should connect to prior learning and interests; formative assessment
I specifically consider my students’ strengths, needs, and interests when designing instruction
Lesson plans, materials for students, formative assessment data and/or student interest surveys
Practicing Making and Supporting Claims
Understanding the audience is just one aspect of advocacy; we also must think about the message we want to share with that audience. We ask our preservice teachers what claims they want to be able to make about their teaching practices by the end of their student teaching placements. We help them refine their central claims to a clear and overarching statement, such as I am an effective novice teacher because my planning, instruction, and assessments demonstrate that students are engaged and learning (and when they are not, I have sound ideas about what to do next). We ask our preservice teachers if this is a claim they hope to confidently make, and if so, then how they can support this claim given what they know of their audience.
Different aspects of the performance assessment can then provide opportunities for candidates to make claims about the purpose and effects of their teaching choices. Here is where we practice articulating a message to a particular audience, taking what we know about the audience’s priorities and values and aligning these elements with what we want to highlight about our teaching. We also consider what evidence we can provide to help support the claims we are making.
Admittedly, teacher performance assessments may seem an unlikely context for practicing Everyday Advocacy. However, because these assessments are high stakes, we view them as important sites for helping teachers proactively represent their professional work. When preservice teachers are invited to claim the space for confidently describing and inquiring into their teaching, they are advocating for themselves and their students. As teacher educators, we are also advocating for our own students as we reposition them as emerging professionals instead of vulnerable test takers.
Christine Dawson is an assistant professor and Director of the Teacher Preparation Program at Siena College in New York. Christine is a former middle and high school English teacher, a NWP teacher leader, and the President of the New York State Association of Teacher Educators. She is committed to supporting educators as writers and advocates. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anny Fritzen Case is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. She is a former middle and high school English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. She loves hanging out in secondary schools with her university students and believes that multilingual students are tremendous assets to any classroom. She can be contacted at email@example.com.