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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 11, 2017 10:01 pm

New York scraps teacher literacy test

Karen Matthews | Associated Press

NEW YORK – 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.

The state Board of Regents on Monday is expected to adopt a task force’s recommendation of eliminating the literacy exam, known as the Academic Literacy Skills Test.

Backers of the test say eliminating it could put weak teachers in classrooms. Critics of the examination said it is redundant and a poor predictor of who will succeed as a teacher.

"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 that examined the state’s teacher certification tests.

The literacy test was among four assessments introduced in the 2013-2014 school year as part of an effort to raise the level of elementary and secondary school teaching in the state.

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.

The reformers believe tests like New York’s Academic Literacy Skills Test can serve to weed out aspiring teachers who aren’t strong students.

But the literacy test raised alarms from the beginning because just 46 percent of Hispanic test takers and 41 percent of black test takers passed it on the first try, compared with 64 percent of white candidates.

A federal judge ruled in 2015 that the test was not discriminatory, but faculty members at education schools say a test that screens out so many minorities is problematic.

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

Kate Walsh, the president of National Council on Teacher Quality, which pushes for higher standards for teachers, said that blacks and Latinos don’t score as well as whites on the literacy test because of factors like poverty and the legacy of racism.