Time to eliminate high-stakes tests for prospective California teachers


A sixth grade math teacher helps two students during a lesson about math and music.

Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

Becoming a public school teacher is a calling. It’s incredible to see students learn and grow and achieve their dreams. Many see this as a rewarding career and want to pursue it, which raises the question — why would anyone be in favor of unnecessary hurdles for these aspiring educators?

In my work as an educator, with more than 30 years in the classroom and as vice president of the California Teachers Association (CTA), I’ve seen firsthand and heard from educators up and down the state about the deeply problematic Teaching Performance Assessments (TPAs). These assessments were enacted to measure the teaching performance of prospective teachers.  

There is no shortage of horror stories about the TPAs. We hear from talented teachers constantly that they are long and time-consuming. They are full of low-value tasks, and they come at a very busy time for new educators. They do not prepare teachers for the classroom and detract from programs with proven success.

Aspiring teachers can better learn the teaching craft in the real world. Vital preparation for new educators includes working with mentors to improve their instruction, having time to concentrate on developing quality lesson plans, and learning how to apply knowledge gained from a credential program in real classrooms. These programs consistently assess student teachers. They ensure we meet California’s high teaching standards.

The TPAs also keep talented educators out of the profession of public education. This is especially true for Black, Indigenous and people of color working to become teachers. Educators of color have raised concerns about biases undermining their success at passing the TPAs. Moreover, aspiring teachers must pay $300 out-of-pocket to take these assessments. After spending thousands of dollars on a degree, one can see how this costly assessment becomes an impossible hurdle for too many. 

This is why CTA is sponsoring Senate Bill 1263 to eliminate the TPAs, alongside Sen. Josh Newman.

Two years ago, I began leading a CTA work group with educators from across the state. We met to study the teacher shortage. We aimed to find ways to ease the problem and increase teacher diversity. Our group determined that these assessments hurt teacher training. They harm our new teacher pipeline and hinder efforts to diversify public education careers.

We compiled this data and analysis from educators and practitioners, including a survey of educators. We took this information to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and noted the disproportionate impact on educator candidates (see page 33). This issue was first raised three years ago by the California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education when the group asked the commission to end high-stakes testing in teacher education, citing concerns with “validity, reliability, fairness and bias.”

At the meeting, Commissioner Christopher Davis underscored the TPA’s “disproportionate harm” to teaching candidates from diverse backgrounds: “We continue to struggle with the reality that our state, through these examinations, is systematically discriminating against the very diversity it alleges it wants to track into our workforce.”

In December, the commission heard our call, adopting a secondary passing standard in the event an educator did not complete the TPA requirement. This allows teacher candidates who met all other credential requirements a path to a credential if they demonstrate Teacher Performance Expectations (TPE) through classroom observations, course projects and similar avenues.

This is a step in the right direction. More than 1,500 aspiring California educators who did not pass the TPA would have met the secondary standard in 2022-23, meaning they would be spared the cost and extreme stress of retaking the TPA.

Our work continues. As Sen. Newman said, the issue is simple: “One key to improving the educator pipeline is removing barriers that may be dissuading otherwise talented and qualified prospective people from pursuing a career as an educator.”

We must end the unnecessary TPA and evolve our state system of educator preparation to better equip teachers to bridge California’s diverse students to bright futures. This is becoming a national standard. Other states including New York, New Jersey, Georgia and even Texas have already eliminated the TPA requirement. It’s time for California to take this step forward and improve the path for aspiring educators on their way to the classroom.


Leslie Littman is vice president of the California Teachers Association. She previously taught AP U.S. history, economics and government at Hart High School in the William S. Hart Union School District in Santa Clarita.

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