Judge Rules New York Teacher Exam Not Racially Biased
Kimba Wood has finally found a teacher exam she likes.
Judge Kimba Wood has finally found a teacher exam she likes.
NYT (“Judge Rules New York Teacher Exam Did Not Discriminate Against Minorities“):
A federal judge on Friday ruled that a new licensing exam for teachers given by New York State did not discriminate against minorities, saying that even though they tended to score poorly, the test evaluated skills necessary to do the job.
The ruling is a departure from earlier decisions by the same judge, Kimba M. Wood of Federal District Court in Manhattan, in which she threw out past certification exams. It also symbolizes a significant moment in a long-running tug of war between two policy goals in education: making tests for new teachers more rigorous, and increasing the diversity of the nation’s teaching force.
Ken Wagner, a former New York State deputy commissioner of education who is now Rhode Island’s education commissioner, said in a court brief last month that the new tests were developed “with the need to address the achievement gap in mind and in recognition of the state’s responsibility to ensure that each newly certified teacher entered the classroom with certain minimum knowledge, skills and abilities.”
But some schools of education in New York complained that the literacy skills test was not a true measure of what makes a good teacher, and that many of their black and Hispanic students were failing it. An analysis last year found that 46 percent of Hispanic candidates and 41 percent of black candidates passed the test on the first try, while 64 percent of white candidates did so. Students may retake the exams.
More than 80 percent of the country’s public schoolteachers are white, according to the federal Education Department, and there has been a longstanding push to try to increase diversity among teachers, as minorities now account for more than half of the public school student population.
If an employment test has a disparate racial impact, courts have ruled that officials must prove that it measures skills crucial to the job at hand. Judge Wood had ruled that two earlier exams, both called the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, had not met that standard. About 4,000 people who at some point were denied full teaching jobs in New York City because they had not passed those tests have filed claims seeking compensation as a result of those rulings.
But this time, Judge Wood ruled that the state and Pearson, the testing company that helped devise the exam, had done a proper job of making sure that the “content of the ALST is representative of the content of a New York State public-school teacher’s job.”
Alfred S. Posamentier, until recently the dean of Mercy College School of Education, said he did not consider the test to be a strong indicator of who would be a good teacher, and that his Hispanic faculty members in particular said they found the test to be discriminatory. Students at Mercy passed the test at a lower rate than their counterparts statewide.
Mr. Posamentier said that while it was important to be a clear, literate communicator, “the ALST measures how eloquent a person is in the English language.”
“The question is, is that one of the criterion for determining who will be a good teacher?” he said. “My sense is that the answer is no.”
The legal standard here—that if a hurdle to a job has racially disparate impact, the employer must demonstrate its relevance to said job—is reasonable. In the case of teacher exams—or, indeed, examinations period—it’s an exceedingly difficult burden to meet.
Still, Posamentier’s position here is hard to defend. Surely, facility with the English language is in fact a crucial skill for a teacher in the United States. While it’s hardly a sufficient competency, it’s a necessary one. The curriculum is written and delivered in English. Further, even math, science, fine arts, or physical education teachers ought model standard American English for their students.
Contrariwise, if native Spanish speakers who are nonetheless highly proficient in reading and speaking standard American English are failing the exam because they’re a little slower in deciphering and thinking through the questions and are therefore running out of time, I’d agree that the test is highly flawed. Teachers, after all, have plenty of time to digest their course materials ahead of the lesson. But Posamentier doesn’t seem to be making that argument.
Now, it may nonetheless be that the exam in question does a poor job of weeding out teachers who are likely to be ineffective in the classroom or needlessly bars teachers who would be highly effective from getting that chance. The state managed to persuade a hostile judge—one who’s tossed out previous iterations of the exam—otherwise.