Society

New York To Scrap Literacy Test For Teachers

| by Robert Fowler

New York education officials are slated to do away with a state literacy test designed to eliminate prospective teachers with sub-par reading and writing skills from classrooms.

The vote follows a recommendation from a task force that the exam was discriminatory towards black and Hispanic candidates, while supporters of the test assert that it is necessary to provide schools with the best possible teachers.

On March 13, the state Board of Regents of New York are expected to vote on whether they will eliminate the state Academic Literacy Skills Test, which had been introduced in the 2013 through 2014 school year. In December 2016, a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that a racial disparity in test scores.

While 64 percent of Caucasian candidates passed the test on a first try, only 46 percent of Hispanic and 41 percent of black candidates could do the same.

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A task force has recommended that the Board of Regents scrap the test altogether, citing the racial disparity in test scores and the exam's $131 price tag for test-takers.

In order to assess literacy, they recommended that another exam, the Educating All Students test, be changed to also determine a candidate's reading and writing skills in addition to assessing their ability to teach a diverse student body.

Professor of education Leslie Soodak of Pace University, who had participated in the task force, asserts that the test results in a less diverse pool of teachers.

"Having a white workforce really doesn't match our student body anymore," Soodak told the Associated Press.

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Critics of the move caution that getting rid of the ALST would be a disservice to students.

"It's a terrible idea to get rid of the test that tells us whether teaching candidates meet minimum literacy levels," director Jenny Sedlis of StudentsFirstNY, a charter school advocate, told the New York Post. "Students in low-income neighborhoods need teachers who soar over the standards, not ones who failed to pass a basic competency test."

Jamie Dangler, the vice president for academics of the United University Professions and a co-chair on the task force, asserts that the problem with the ALST is not only that it may be discriminatory but that it is a poor way to assess literacy.

"There are serious problems with the content and format of the ALST," Dangler told Chalkbeat. "It's a poorly constructed exam."

Director of education policy Charles Sahm of the conservative Manhattan Institute believes that eliminating the ALST to address a lack of diversity in the education workforce would be counterproductive.

"I think it's important that we increase the share of black and Hispanic teachers, and we certainly don't have enough here or anywhere," Sahm said. "But I don't think this is the way to go. This is a literacy exam. If you're going to be a teacher in New York state, this is a criteria you should be able to meet."

Sahm noted that he did agree with critics of the ALST, recalling that he had taken it himself.

"I do agree that it's not a great test," Sahm said. "I found the reading comprehension section to be kind of infuriating."

National Council on Teacher Quality president Kate Walsh, who supports the ALST, asserts that the racial disparity in test scores is similar to other exams because Hispanics and African Americans demographically face more poverty and less access to higher education.

"There's not a test in the country that doesn't have disproportionate performance on the part of blacks and Latinos," Walsh said.

Sources: Associated Press via Poughkeepsie Journal, ChalkbeatNew York Post / Photo Credit: Warren B./Flickr

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