The public has basic expectations about teachers. They are teaching the next generation and are proven to have the most impact on whether children will learn effectively. That is a momentous responsibility and explains why educator quality is so vital.
Evaluations of teacher candidates vary from state to state. Some regions require more education than others, almost all demand continuing education. Many states do testing on teachers to verify their claimed qualifications.
What happens when teachers can’t pass competence exams? Common sense would say that the applicant would be deemed inadequate to teach and not be hired. New York has taken a different approach.
The teacher union in New York has opposed standardized testing and performance monitoring of educators since it was introduced decades ago. Unions across the country seem to feel similarly. There is little logic behind their objections to a text that should be a chance to prove their competency.
The Academic Skills Literacy Test (ASLT) has been for some time in New York. However, that is about to change.
“New York education officials are poised to scrap a test designed to measure the reading and writing skills of people trying to become teachers, in part because an outsized percentage of black and Hispanic candidates were failing it.”
Yes, too many candidates are failing the test and so it has been deemed racist. They have been attacking the tests on this reasoning since 2015. A tort suit representing some of these teachers that were being “discriminated against” went to court that year. They not only questioned the ASLT but another exam that tests liberal arts and sciences as well.
A federal court eventually dismissed the $300 million case. The decision did not seem to sway the prospective educators. The union continued protesting the testing and New York has given in to their demands.
Opponents of the test allege that it is an inadequate indicator of a good or bad teacher. Leslie Soodak is a professor of education at Pace University. She was on the task force that examined the state’s teacher certification tests.
“We want high standards, without a doubt. Not every given test is going to get us there.”
Supporters of education reform state they are alarmed at the quality of people entering education schools. They are also skeptical of the level of instruction given at these schools. The proponents believe the tests are an effective way of weeding out poor candidates.
The results indicate some sort of problem, either with the test or the candidates. Only 46% of Hispanics and 41% of blacks were able to pass the test on the first try. 64% of white candidates had success.
Opponents say that a test that “screens out so many minorities is problematic.” Soodak says, “Having a white workforce really doesn’t match our student body anymore.”
Kate Walsh who is the president of National Council on Teacher Quality thinks that the testing is important. She feels the minorities might score lower on testing because of poverty factors.
Her organization wants higher standards for educators and states, “There’s not a test in the country that doesn’t have disproportionate performance on the part of blacks and Latinos.” She also says that forgoing the tests altogether would be “a crying shame.”
The ASLT is a range of multiple-choice questions with reading selections plus a written section. The executive director of the New York office of the Education Trust, Ian Rosenblum says it is a literacy test at a “a 12th grade-level assessment.”
In addition there is a “safety net.” Students can supplement the test by submitting grades from college course that demonstrate proficiency.
Many question how this test could be considered racist. A candidate who is Hispanic or black takes the same educator courses that the white candidates do. If they have the same preparations, they should be more than capable of passing the same tests.
One reporter points out, “The sample tests provided include examples such as passages from a speech by John F. Kennedy, the biography of Gertrude Stein or an article about ethanol production. None of these require you to be an expert historian, biographer or energy industry expert. You simply need to read the words in the passage and then answer a question or questions about different aspects of the text.”
Logic aside, New York has caved to the pressure. There is no information about how the state plans to assess teaching candidates in the future. Nor have they disclosed how they will ensure that new evaluations will not be similarly “racist.”
New York does not score well on school ratings. Over 30 states outperformed New York on the Report Card on American Education. The Empire State received a “C” or less on the report card for at least 5 years in a row.
Clearly their education system needs repair. New York, like many states, has deficient schools. Suffering from many obstacles including financial struggles, it will take some time for recovery to become effective. As our new education leader, we will be looking at Betsy DeVos to begin correcting this critical problem.