Judge: NY Teacher Exam Not Discriminatory Just Because Minorities Score Lower

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A federal judge in New York has deigned to allow a teacher licensing exam which tests rudimentary academic skills and knowledge.

Judge Kimba M. Wood issued her ruling Friday, reports The New York Times.

In June, Wood had struck down another test of basic knowledge used by New York City to vet potential teachers. Wood concluded that the test illegally discriminated against racial minorities because members of racial minorities scored lower on it.

Members of racial minorities also score lower on the test Wood has allowed but, she reasoned, the low scores on the new test of basic knowledge are totally different than the low scores on the old test of basic knowledge.

Wood, a judge in the Southern District of New York, ruled that the two tests are different because the new one more accurately evaluates the skills needs for teaching successfully.

The teaching licensure exam Wood has allowed is called the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST). It focuses on reading and writing skills and is aligned with the national Common Core standards for English.

Education materials behemoth Pearson, which has a $32 million five-year contract to develop New York’s Common Core-related tests, developed the literacy skills test. (RELATED: Mandatory Common Core Tests In New York Just Happen To Be Full Of Corporate Brand Names)

Prospective teachers seeking certification in the state of New York must take the literacy test as well as three others.

The Academic Literacy Skills Test first appeared in the 2013-14 school year.

In education departments are universities, would-be black and Hispanic teachers have failed New York’s Academic Literacy Skills Test at a considerable clip. Just 41 percent of black teacher candidates passed the test on the first attempt. Just 46 percent of Hispanic teacher candidates passed on their first try.

The first-time pass rate for white teacher candidates on the test has been 64 percent.

Over 80 percent of America’s current teacher workforce is white.

In a court filing, former New York State deputy commissioner of education Ken Wagner asserted that the literacy test and the other three teacher licensing tests “ensure that each newly certified teacher entered the classroom with certain minimum knowledge, skills and abilities.”

New York State Education Department spokesman David Tompkins lauded Wood’s ruling.

“Our students need and deserve the best qualified teachers possible, and the ALST helps make sure they get those teachers,” Tompkins said, according to the Times.

Critics of testing academic skills as a way to license teachers argue that tests of basic literacy can only measure how well someone can speak and write.

“The question is, is that one of the criterion for determining who will be a good teacher?” Alfred S. Posamentier, former education dean at Mercy College in the swanky suburbs north of Manhattan, told the Times. “My sense is that the answer is no.”

Due to complaints from professors and officials in university education departments, soon-to-be teachers don’t actually need to pass the literacy exam until June 30, 2016. If they fail the literacy test, they can display their English language prowess through coursework.

At issue in Wood’s Friday ruling and her previous ruling is the concept of disparate racial impact. The basic rule when disparate racial impact occurs as the result of an employment test is that proponents of the test must show that the test assesses skills specifically necessary for the job.

The New York City test Judge Wood threw out was called the Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST-2). It tested a basic high school-level understanding of both the liberal arts and the sciences.

Approximately 4,000 teachers and teaching applicants lost their jobs or did not get hired because they couldn’t pass the old test.

Members of minorities failed the old test at a substantially higher rate than white people did. Hispanic and black applicants had a passage rate of only 54 to 75 percent of the passage rate for whites. (RELATED: NY Teacher Exam Thrown Out For Being Discriminatory)

One sample question from the old test asked prospective educators to identify the mathematical principle of a linear relationship when given four examples; another asked them to read four passages from the Constitution and identify which illustrated checks and balances. Besides factual knowledge, the test also checks basic academic skills, such as reading comprehension and the ability to read basic charts and graphs.

This neutral subject matter contained an insidious kernel of racism, Judge Wood ruled.

Wood is most famous as President Bill Clinton’s second failed choice for United States Attorney General. She ran into trouble because she hired an illegal immigrant as her nanny.

The New York judge also sentenced junk-bond king Michael Milken to 10 years in jail in 1990. Later, Milken’s sentence was commuted. He served 22 months.

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Eric Owens