Characteristics of High-Scoring edTPA Lessons

The exemplary lessons1 shown below earned fours and fives on Task 1 rubrics. Some characteristics shared between lessons helpful for earning points include

1) Clear labeling and description, such as lesson title, learning targets, and activities
2) Thorough description of teacher and student behavior
3) Use of preassessment for understanding student background knowledge
4) Two or more opportunities for informal assessment in each lesson
5) Multiple practice or support activities in each lesson
6) Prewritten questions for eliciting student understanding
7) Use of postassessment for analyzing learning at the conclusion of the sequence

The outlines for general and special education include these characteristics and are useful for planning lessons for Task 1.

Elementary Literacy Elementary Mathematics English as Second Language
English Language Arts Family Consumer Science Health Education
History Social Studies Mathematics for Secondary Performing Arts
Physical Education Science for Secondary Special Education
Visual Arts World Languages

1. The lessons shown above have been shared with permission of the authors.

Work Samples and Feedback

Every subject requires three student work samples, except special education (which requires a final assessment, and some other assessment pieces). See an example Work Sample with Feedback.

Generally, work samples are documents of some kind, such as paper-pencil assessments, though in some subject areas, video of student performance may be used as work sample evidence. Note that physical education requires work samples in the form of videos. And, in special education, there are additional elements associated with the focus learner’s performance, including daily assessment record and baseline performance data.

Some formatting requirements and procedures for work samples include the following:

  • Conceal names including student, teacher, school, or district.
  • Refer to work samples as Student 1 Work Sample, Student 2 Work Sample, and so on. As mentioned, some subject areas permit video format work samples, such as physical education or special education. You need not conceal student names in videos but may refer to students by their first names, and nearby adults by their preferred name.
  • Although most portfolios will include documents as work samples, the exact characteristics of the document may vary depending on subject area. In most cases, the document will be an assessment. In other cases it will be a document with inserted photographs and captions, such as an artistic work for visual arts. Digitizing work samples is readily done using a digital camera or camera phone. A scanner can also be used.

Digital images created with cameras may be copy-pasted into word processing software and saved as document files.

Handbooks do not require use of the chosen or final assessment as the work sample. However, writing prompts for task three include elements that make use of the assessment an excellent option for the work sample.

Using the assessment as the work sample requires inclusion of items that generate quantitative-numerical and qualitative-descriptive information.

The assessment should also be aligned with learning the targets in explicit ways, such as including words shown in targets as part of assessment items.


Performance Assessment of California Teachers (2010). Supporting Documents for Candidates. Retrieved from

Collecting Video Evidence

Some general requirements of recordings include the following. A video clip must be continuous and unedited. For example, do not remove the middle 30 seconds of a 10 minute clip because a student is off-task for that part of the video. Check the video and sound quality to ensure that the students and candidate are seen and heard on the video. Practicing with the equipment beforehand helps reduce technical problems. Do not include the name of the state, school, or district in your video. Use first names for students, and void using last names. Mentor teachers should be present during edTPA teaching and video recording. Mentors do not need to leave, and in fact mentors are responsible for supervising candidates throughout internship.

The number of minutes and clips of video recording vary by discipline. The best source of information about minutes and clips is the description for Task 2 in the handbook. Nevertheless, all areas are permitted either 15 or 20 minutes of video instruction. Elementary literacy, elementary mathematics, and secondary mathematics may submit one clip up to 15 minutes, or two clips totaling up to 15 minutes. Alternatively, English language arts, performing arts, and secondary science submit two clips, totaling up to 20 minutes. And again, health education and visual arts may submit one clip up to 20 minutes or two clips totaling up to 20 minutes. All of the disciplines shown here include two optional clips. Candidates may include a three minute clip showing student voice and a five minute clip showing academic language. Optional clips do not contribute to the totals associated with instruction clips. For example, a portfolio in visual arts may include one 20 minute clip showing instruction, another three minute clip of student voice, and another five minute clip of academic language, for a total of 28 minutes.

Responding to Task 1 Commentary Prompts

The purpose of edTPA, according to handbook statements, is to measure novice readiness to teach. However, since most of the portfolio consists of candidates’ written response to commentary prompts, it is also, to some degree, a measure of writing proficiency.

Read some Example Responses to help with your writing.

Two types of writing frequently required for assembling a portfolio include descriptive and analytical.

Descriptive writing should be logical, well-ordered, with sufficient detail so the assessor comprehends the lesson plans, the students, and explanations supporting decisions about instruction.

Analytical writing consists of explanations and interpretations based on evidence. Evidence for Task 1 includes lesson plans, the Context for Learning, and instructional materials. These should be referenced often in the commentary.

Some general strategies to consider when responding to commentary prompts include 1) break down questions into their component parts, 2) maximize page limits by supporting claims with evidence and including one or more examples per prompt, and 3) note that writing prompts often correspond to rubrics, such as prompt 1 and rubric 1. However, also note that this correspondence is not perfectly true, since prompt 5 corresponds to rubric 5 and 2.


The definition of assessment according to the edTPA model is that it “includes all those activities undertaken by teachers and students that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities.”

There are many types of assessments. Nowadays, educators often talk about formative and summative assessment. However, in edTPA, assessments are categorized as informal and formal. It is possible to align informal assessment with formative and formal with summative.

Nevertheless, the definitions provided for informal and formal assessment are defined with examples. Informal assessments include questions posed by the teacher or teacher observations of students. Practical methods for conducting observations for assessment include pair-share and think aloud, among others. In addition, any type of prompt presented by the teacher to elicit student response may be labeled as an informal assessment.

Some examples of formal assessment include assignments, quizzes, journal entries, projects, tests, lab reports, and so on.

Generally, the requirements for edTPA include multiple informal assessments across lessons, assessment of students’ prior learning to begin the lesson sequence, assessment of student voice, and a formal assessment summarizing student learning of the lesson sequence. In addition, the formal assessment should include an evaluation criteria, though brief assessment criteria could be presented for each assessment included in the portfolio.

This sample pre- and postassessment with evaluation criteria may help you design your own.

Academic Language

Let’s summarize academic language, which is generally students writing or speaking to express understanding of subject matter. It consists of discourse, which may be thought of as how students write or speak. It also consists of the language function, which is the way students are supposed to think as a result of engaging in the lesson sequence. The language function is more practically identified as the verb found in the central focus. The language demand is the method students use to express their understanding of subject matter. Syntax is the system used for organizing written or spoken communication. Vocabulary consists of subject-specific or general words, while language supports are the steps the teacher takes to help students learn all of the above.

Standards and Goals

Search your edTPA handbook for the word “target” and the phrase “central focus.” Note the number of times these words appear, as a way to understand the emphasis edTPA places on these elements of teaching and learning.

Also note that failure to attend to learning targets and a central focus as you write lessons and construct your portfolio will limit the strength of your evidence and your ability to write effective commentary.

The relationship between the standard, central focus, and learning targets is hierarchical. Typically, there is one Standard and one Central Focus used to inform and unify learning targets in the lesson sequence. Each lesson has its own learning target.

Lesson Elements

The authors of edTPA have designed Task 1 with five questions in mind. There are different ways to answer these questions. However, some approaches are more efficient than others.

The first question is, What do your students know, what can they do, and what are they learning to do? One of the best ways to answer this question is to use information from a preassessment, or previous assessment data.

The second question is, What do you want your students to learn? What are the important understandings and core concepts you want students to develop within the learning segment? One way to answer this question is with the Central Focus and Learning Targets of the lesson sequence.

Third, What instructional strategies, learning tasks, and assessments will you design to support student learning and language use? The answer to question three depends on many factors, such as grade and subject. However, general instructional strategies such as preview, review, practice, inquiry, formative assessment, preassessment and the like are useful for framing answers.

Fourth, How is the teaching you propose supported by research and theory about how students learn? One efficient way to answer this question is to rely on sources from coursework such as textbooks and articles.

Fifth, How is the teaching you propose informed by your knowledge of students? Again, we should rely on data gathered from a preassessment, or perhaps previous assessment data, and also from the Context for Learning write-up.

Here’s a helpful Sample Lesson for edTPA with comments to help you plan.

Rebranding and Educative Versus Miseducative Experiences

In 2012, TPA was renamed edTPA, to emphasize the “the educative nature of the assessment for teacher candidate learning and program renewal” (Professional Educator Standards Board, 2012).

Claiming that TPA was renamed edTPA to emphasize educative features is an exaggeration. There are practical reasons companies rebrand their products.

The most plausible reason, in the case of edTPA, is that an insurance company has owned the domain since 1993. Pearson, Stanford’s operations partner, began using in 2012, presumably since was already taken. Another reason is that TPA has been used as a general term to describe other performance assessments, according to California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which uses the phrase Teaching Performance Assessment and the acronym TPA on its website. Leaving edTPA as TPA would have caused confusion and interfered with SCALE Stanford’s ability to enforce trademark and copyright provisions on their product.

Adding the prefix ed does not make an activity educative. Continuity  linked to interaction makes an experience educative, according to John Dewey (1938).

Continuity refers to the principle that humans respond to experiences and learn from them. Interaction goes with continuity since humans recollect previous experiences to make predictions about the future and then adjust their behavior accordingly. Alternatively, miseducative experiences are those that “narrow the field of further experience.”

Hopefully, student teachers completing edTPA portfolios  exit the process feeling ed- (rather than) mis-educated.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education.

Learning Activities Described in Task 2 Rubrics

Generally, rubrics for Task 1 and 3 are similar across disciplines and handbooks in edTPA. Examples include scales dealing with how lessons build on one another, using instruction to support learning, and eliciting student self-assessment on the learning targets.

The rubrics in Task 2 are somewhat different across handbooks since they describe specific learning activities student teachers should use in their portfolios. The exception to this is the rubric dealing with classroom management, which is the same for every discipline.

Since specific learning activities are inferred from Task 2 rubrics, the most efficient place to begin planning lessons is by examining Task 2 rubrics, and then organize learning activities that align with these descriptions. Some example activities according to Task 2 rubrics follow:

Secondary Science: Students construct a scientific argument, related to a science concept or phenomenon. Students display data to support this argument.

Elementary Literacy: Students use a specific literacy skill, such as write to learn. Candidates determine beforehand whether students have requisite knowledge to use the skill, and also model its use.

Social Studies: Students analyze documents, events, or phenomenon and then form an interpretation. Students generate an argument from their interpretation and support the argument with evidence.


Performance Assessment of California Teachers (2010). Supporting Documents for Candidates. Retrieved from