edTPA for University Faculty & Instructors

The edTPA is a performance-based portfolio that assesses candidates’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge and skills related to planning, instruction, and assessment.

The edTPA ensures that our candidates not only understand educational theory and subject matter content but can demonstrate their ability to lead a classroom and ensure that students with diverse strengths and needs are learning. Once our candidates reach student teaching, they have the abilities to demonstrate these skills, but they often become overwhelmed with the structure and language of the edTPA portfolio.

Thus, it is critical that we integrate edTPA content into our coursework to help candidates overcome the steep learning curve of the edTPA and feel more comfortable with the process. By doing so, we hope this allows candidates to focus more on developing their teaching practices during their student teaching experience.

This website will provide faculty and instructors with information about the expectations for the edTPA as well as offer edTPA resources to support candidates in their learning and early field experiences. Here's a general overview of the edTPA.

How can you incorporate the edTPA into your course?

One of the biggest hurdles candidates experience when they begin the edTPA process is understanding the vocabulary that the edTPA uses throughout their handbooks and commentaries. (Commentaries are submitted for each of the three tasks and provide candidates’ responses to questions about their rationale behind teaching decisions and an analysis/reflection of their teaching practices and student learning).

Candidates who struggle with the edTPA vocabulary often miss important directions within the edTPA handbook and do not fully respond to commentary questions. To improve our candidates’ understanding of the edTPA vocabulary, provides some of the common edTPA terms that candidates will need to understand. Many of these terms may have a different name within your specific content area.

As you teach your coursework, you may wish to point out the connection between vocabulary in your content area and the edTPA’s vocabulary as well as introduce edTPA-specific vocabulary. If you find an edTPA term that contradicts or does not align with your coursework, please contact us at stuteach@indiana.edu.

The Context for Learning allows candidates to describe their school setting, the features of their classroom, and the variety of their learners. It not only informs the edTPA scorers about the candidate’s classroom, but it allows candidates to think about the learning needs of their students and how they will incorporate various supports and accommodations throughout the learning task. Instructors who supervise practicum placements can have students fill out a Context for Learning for their practicum classroom to improve their knowledge of their students, classroom, and school community. Here are a General Education Context For Learning and Special Education Context For Learning that describe it in more detail.

Once candidates have completed their Context for Learning, the next step in Task 1: Planning is to create the central focus for the learning segment (3-5 lessons). The central focus is an understanding that candidates want their students to develop in the learning segment. It is a description of the important identifiable theme, essential question, or topic within the curriculum. The central focus must address both types of knowledge (e.g. facts, skills, conventions) and conceptual understandings and higher order thinking skills (such as strategies for interpreting/reasoning from facts or evidence synthesizing ideas, strategies for evaluating work, etc.).

The requirements for the central focus vary based on the content area. This document provides a table with the definitions/requirements of central focus for each content area. For courses that include unit plans, instructors can have students create a content-specific central focus.

Content Area

Central Focus

Elementary Literacy

The central focus should include an essential literacy strategy for comprehending text (e.g. summarizing a story) or composing text (e.g. using evidence to support an argument) and the related skills needed to develop and apply the strategy (e.g. decoding, recalling, sequencing, writing conventions, writing paragraphs) in meaningful contexts.

Elementary Mathematics

The central focus should support students in developing conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and mathematical reasoning or problem-solving skills.

Early Childhood Education

The central focus should promote the active and multimodal nature of young children’s learning and developmentally appropriate learning of language and literacy within an interdisciplinary context.

Secondary Social Studies

The central focus should support students in learning and using facts and concepts, and inquiry, interpretation, or analysis skills to build and support arguments or conclusions about historical events, a topic/theme, or a social studies phenomenon.

Secondary English

The central focus should support students  to use textual references to construct meaning from, interpret, or respond to complex text and create a written product, interpreting or responding to complex features of a text that are just beyond your students’ current skill levels.

Secondary Mathematics

The central focus should support students in developing conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and mathematical reasoning and/or problem-solving.

Secondary Science

The central focus should support students in using scientific concepts and applying scientific practices through inquiry to explain a real-world phenomenon or predict reasonable outcomes based on patterns in evidence and/or data.

World Languages

The central focus should support students in developing communicative proficiency in the target language in meaningful cultural context(s).

Visual Arts

The central focus should support students in developing their abilities to create, present, or respond to visual art by incorporating at least one of the following components: interpreting art, developing works of art/design, or  relating art to context while providing opportunities for student choice.

Performance Arts

The central focus should support students to create, perform, and/or respond to music/dance/theater by providing opportunities to apply knowledge/skills, contextual understandings, and artistic expression.

Health Education

The central focus should support students ability to use functional health knowledge, demonstrate health-related skills, and develop personal beliefs and analyze group norms to help students adopt and maintain healthy behaviors.

Special Education

The learning goal will service as a focus for the learning segment. If the focus learner is working on academic content, you must select a learning goal related to an IEP goal in one of the following academic content areas: literacy, mathematics, social studies, or science. If there is no IEP goal related to the content, then select a learning goal related to the academic content on which the focus learner is working.


Within the edTPA, candidates are expected to teach students academic language in order for students to participate and engage in learning in meaningful ways. Candidates first identify a key language function and additional language demands (vocabulary AND syntax or discourse). They then select a learning task that allows their students to practice the academic language while providing specific language supports that directly support their students in understanding and using the language demands. Examples of language functions, language demands, and language supports for each content area can be found within this document.

Candidates are asked to describe and justify how their knowledge of students’ assets were incorporated into their plans for the learning segment. Assets may be personal, cultural, or community assets. When asked to describe their students’ assets, we have found that candidates often resort to describing students deficits, stereotypes, or superficial assets. Candidates need practice both identifying assets and describing how these assets will guide their choices and adaptation of learning tasks and materials.

The standards, learning objectives, learning tasks, and assessments addressed within candidates’ learning segment should all be related to the central focus. Candidates have difficulty maintaining alignment throughout their learning task, such that they will begin with a central focus, but teach a slightly different topic or assess something other than the central focus. For example, an Elementary Literacy candidate may write a central focus about reading fluency, but her learning task and assessments focus on reading comprehension.

Candidates need to provide differentiated instructional strategies, planned supports, and assessments for both individual students and groups of students with specific learning needs. Past edTPA submissions indicate that candidates believe differentiation is only necessary for students with official documentation (e.g. students with IEPS or 504-Plans). Instead, candidates should consider students who have specific language needs, need greater support or challenge, struggle with reading, and are underperforming or have gaps in their academic knowledge. They also need to move beyond simple accommodations like preferential setting and more frequent check-ins.

We have seen a pattern in candidates’ use of research that we call Research Drive-Bys, which essentially means that candidates do not plan their lessons with a specific pedagogical theory or evidence-based practices in mind, but instead plan their entire lesson and then try to fit in a research theory that may be only closely related to their instructional strategies or materials. Therefore, candidates need to practice using research to guide their lesson planning. Within coursework, instructors may want to emphasize how research-based strategies or pedagogical theories provide the starting-point for planning instruction, rather than an ad-hoc justification for activities. Creating a comprehensive table of the theory and research covered in a course may help candidates use these proactively instead of simply mentioning them in their commentaries.

While most instructors teach about higher order thinking within their courses, candidates need help applying these ideas to the edTPA process. First, they need to create a central focus [have central focus have a hyperlink the moves it to the above information on central focus] that addresses not only knowledge (e.g., facts, skills, conventions) but also conceptual understandings and higher order thinking (such as strategies for interpreting/reasoning from facts or evidence, synthesizing ideas, evaluating sources or solutions, etc.). Therefore, candidates must create a central focus that addresses skills of analysis, synthesis, or evaluation. Within Task 2, candidates are asked to deepen their student’s learning, and this is often done through questioning strategies focused on aspects of higher order thinking.

Candidates are expected to plan a variety of formal and informal assessments throughout the learning segment. Furthermore, assessments should be designed or adapted for individuals with specific learning needs and/or groups of students performing at varying levels. Candidates will select one assessment that they created using evaluation criteria to analyze the learning of both individuals and the entire classroom (or small group of students). The edTPA also privileges assessments that focus on understanding or demonstration of skill rather than factual recall. Candidates will need to learn how to assess students’ conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking skills. Given that our candidates do not have a specific assessment course, it will be helpful to incorporate information on assessment into each of their courses--most importantly, the purpose of assessment, the difference between grading and assessment, how to create modified assessments for different learners or groups of students, and how to use evaluation criteria to design assessment.

Are you interested in sharing your expertise?

In the Office of Clinical Experiences, we provide general information about the edTPA, but we do not have expertise in each content area. We are interested in having faculty and instructors share their expertise to provide content-specific information related to the edTPA.

Here are the ways you can help:

  • Create a short video that describes an edTPA topic (e.g. how to create a central focus) for your content area.
  • Volunteer to be a guest lecture at an edTPA seminar.
  • Volunteer to mentor candidates during the edTPA process.
  • Serve on an edTPA committee to offer insight on how we can better integrate information within your content area.

If you are interested in getting involved, please contact stuteach@indiana.edu.

edTPA was authored by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) with editorial and design assistance from Evaluation Systems. Copyright © 2017 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved. The edTPA trademarks are owned by The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Use of the edTPA trademarks is permitted only pursuant to the terms of a written license agreement.