New York to Scrap Literacy Test for Prospective Teachers Over Lack of Diversity

teacher classroom
March 13, 2017

New York education officials are expected on Monday to eliminate a test designed to measure the reading and writing skills of people trying to become teachers, in part because a disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic test takers were failing it.

The state Board of Regents has looked to adopt a task force's recommendation of eliminating the Academic Literacy Skills Test, according to the Associated Press.

"We want high standards, without a doubt. Not every given test is going to get us there," said Leslie Soodak, a professor of education at Pace University who served on the task force.

The literacy test, which was introduced in the 2013-2014 school year in an effort to raise the level of school teaching in the state, has alarmed some because of how minorities performed taking it. Only 46 percent of Hispanics and 41 percent of African Americans passed the test on the first try. Sixty-four percent of white candidates passed the literacy test on the first try.

Proponents of the test say it helps improve the quality of the state's teachers and scrapping it will allow weak ones to work in New York classrooms, the AP reported.

Leaders of the education reform movement have complained for years about the caliber of students entering education schools and the quality of the instruction they receive there. A December 2016 study by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that 44 percent of the teacher preparation programs it surveyed accepted students from the bottom half of their high school classes.

Critics of the test argue it is redundant and a poor predictor of teacher performance. Some say it unfairly disadvantages minority candidates.

In 2015, a federal judge ruled that the test was not discriminatory, but many see a lack of diversity among teachers as problematic.

"Having a white workforce really doesn't match our student body anymore," Soodak said.

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates for higher standards for teachers, told the AP that African Americans and Hispanics do not score as high on the literacy test due to factors like poverty and racism.

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

Walsh also said getting rid of the test would be a "shame" because New York has become "light years ahead of other states" with its teacher certification.

The Academic Literacy Skills Test has a series of reading sections that consist of multiple-choice questions, followed by a written section. The test is taken online and costs $131. Practice tests are available online for $20 on the New York Education Department website.

According to Ian Rosenblum, the executive director of the New York office of the Education Trust, the literacy test is comparable to "a 12th grade-level assessment."

Published under: Education , New York