In the News: Regents Drop Teacher Literacy Test Seen As Discriminatory

In New York, the Board of Regents voted Monday to eliminate a requirement that aspiring teachers pass a literacy test in order to become certified. As Kate Taylor explains in the New York Times

The literacy test proved challenging to many prospective teachers, but particularly for black and Hispanic candidates. An analysis done in 2014, the year the test was first administered, found that 64 percent of white candidates passed the test on the first try, while only 46 percent of Hispanic candidates and 41 percent of black candidates did.

Nonetheless, a federal judge who had found two older certification tests to be discriminatory ruled in 2015 that the ALST was not biased, because it measured skills that were necessary for teaching.

However, deans of education schools, especially those with large numbers of black and Hispanic students, disagreed, and argued that the exam was exacerbating a shortage of teachers of color. More than 80 percent of public-school teachers in the country are white, according to the federal Education Department, while a majority of public school students are not.

An AP story in the New York Daily News quotes advocates of the test as well as detractors.

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.

In an article for Education Next, Dan Goldhaber reviews the evidence on the importance of teacher quality. He notes that teachers’ verbal skills have been shown to be related to the impact of those teachers on student achievement.

However, Goldhaber notes (in an earlier Education Next article) that, in general, while teachers who perform well on tests of verbal ability tend to perform better in the classroom, “the things that make schools and teachers effective defy easy measurement.”

— Education Next

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