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

How About Three?

Student teachers are able to plan their portfolios around three, four, or five lessons. As long as other requirements are met, it is more efficient to write three lessons instead of four or five.

Think of your edTPA portfolio as a mini-unit. Your plans need not connect to any content that has come before or that will come after. But you do need to assess students’ prior learning and background knowledge. This can be accomplished with pre- and postassessment, but your portfolio does not need to reflect long-term learning or achievement. The portfolio is a snap-shot of what students learn over a short period of time.

Use a preassessment to describe students’ current understanding of the content (specifically the learning targets). Plan and deploy three lessons aligned with the edTPA model of teaching and learning according to your handbook. Then, conclude with a postassessment.

Planning three lessons instead of four or five will eliminate lesson writing, inclusion of additional instructional materials and it will also focus your commentary writing.

For $300, SCALE or Pearson Inc. Should Provide Some Feedback

Pearson Inc. will charge student teachers $300 to score their edTPA portfolio. According to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education website, this is a “fair” price.

It could be argued that the price is fair since Pearson has to pay for scoring, training, and information technology used for collecting and storing portfolio elements. Pearson is also paying SCALE Stanford, since this group owns edTPA.

Nevertheless, student teachers don’t receive much for their money, only 15 numerical scores. There is no feedback. Suggestions for improvement, or justification for marks are absent, and most educators agree that these are basic elements to fair and effective assessment.

Pearson Inc. does give users an opportunity to request feedback, presumably from university personnel. Presenting this option is deferring responsibility. For $300, Pearson Inc. should be providing some information about why particular scores were assigned. Plus, university personnel are not allowed to make substantive suggestions for improvement, and even if they did, the portfolio has been submitted.

Since being fair is important, student teachers should request feedback. They should request it from the owner of edTPA, SCALE Stanford, or from Pearson Inc.

Context for Learning

The Context for Learning informs the assessor about your particular teaching circumstances, such as school demographics, block scheduling, and length of class period. Write the context for learning with general characteristics in mind, and then narrow the writing to include specific information about particular students. Use the entire amount of space allowed for the Context to show that you know your students well enough to plan effective lessons for them.

Example edTPA Context for Learning Example.

Central Focus: What is it?

The central focus is the long-term goal that unites the learning targets. It does not have to be accomplished within the learning segment. The central focus can be described in terms of student behavior, or it can be presented as a concept (originally, edTPA began as PACT [Performance Assessment for California Teachers] and the central focus was defined as a concept).

Nevertheless, probably as a result of standardizing edTPA, concept  was renamed as central focus to appeal to a wider audience, but the important characteristic of the central focus is to use it to unite the learning targets across the learning segment.

For example, the following Central Focus in secondary social studies serves to unite these three learning targets.

Central Focus

Students apply reasoning skills to conduct evidence-based research. (In this case, the goal is to apply reasoning skills, and the concept could be reasoning skills or  evidence-based research).

Related Learning Targets

  1. Students define artifact and list three characteristics of an artifact.
  2. Students define inference and describe three steps to take to make an inference about a historical artifact.
  3. Students make inferences about artifacts and write two inferences about the people that made the artifact.

You can either begin planning with a State standard in mind or not. It is just as easy to write your learning targets, pick the central focus, and then locate a State standard that aligns with your plans. Alternatively, you can begin with a State standard, and then write your central focus and learning targets. The order doesn’t matter as much as showing that your learning targets build on one another and are united under the central focus.Central focus and learning targets