New York Teachers’ Exam Ruled Racially Biased

Being required to demonstrate competency in liberal arts to teach is racially discriminatory, a federal judge has ruled.

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Being required to demonstrate competency in liberal arts to teach is racially discriminatory, a federal judge has ruled.

NYT (“Judge Rules Second Version of New York Teachers’ Exam Is Also Racially Biased“):

A federal judge on Friday found that an exam for New York teaching candidates was racially discriminatory because it did not measure skills necessary to do the job, the latest step in a court battle over teacher qualifications that has spanned nearly 20 years.

The exam, the second incarnation of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, called the LAST-2, was administered from 2004 through 2012 and was designed to test an applicant’s knowledge of liberal arts and science.

But the test was found to fail minority teaching candidates at a higher rate than white candidates. According to Friday’s decision, written by Judge Kimba M. Wood of Federal District Court in Manhattan, the pass rate for African-American and Latino candidates was between 54 percent and 75 percent of the pass rate for white candidates. Once it was established that minority applicants were failing at a disproportionately high rate, the burden shifted to education officials to prove that the skills being tested were necessary to do the job; otherwise, the test would be ruled discriminatory.

One would think that, to be ruled racially discriminatory would require affirmative proof of either discriminatory intent or specific discriminatory content. But, no: mere differential results along racial line apparently puts the burden of proof on the state.

In creating the test, the company, National Evaluation Systems, sent surveys to educators around New York State to determine if the test’s “content objectives” were relevant and important to teaching. The samples for both surveys were small, however, Judge Wood said.

The judge found that National Evaluation Systems, now called Evaluation Systems, part of Pearson Education, went about the process backward.

“Instead of beginning with ascertaining the job tasks of New York teachers, the two LAST examinations began with the premise that all New York teachers should be required to demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts,” Judge Wood wrote.

Joshua Sohn, a partner at the firm Mishcon de Reya, who represents the prospective teachers in the case, echoed the that sentiment.

“They started with the conclusion, without any support, that this is what you actually needed to know to be an effective teacher,” Mr. Sohn said.

Now, I agree that it makes sense to ascertain what skills are related to the job before devising a test for those skills. But it strikes me as a priori obvious that, to be an effective teacher, it would be exceedingly helpful to know the things required of a college graduate, much less possess the knowledge base we expect students to come away with. How can you impart knowledge you don’t have?

It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, though. An earlier NYT report provides some background:

The judge, Kimba M. Wood of Federal District Court in Manhattan, has asked the state for extensive documentation on the development of the test, which was first given during the 2013-14 school year.

The request came as part of a long-running case brought in 1996 by black and Hispanic teachers against New York City. In 2012, Judge Wood ruled that an older state-certification test, which was intended to measure teachers’ knowledge of the liberal arts and science, was racially discriminatory.

Although compensation has not yet been awarded, the city is expected to have to pay back wages to several thousand teachers who were demoted to being substitutes from the early 1990s to 2004, or were never hired as full-time teachers because they did not pass the older test.

[…]

The literacy test is the most challenging of four exams introduced in the 2013-14 school year, as part of an effort to raise the caliber of teachers and teacher training programs. Over all, the number of aspiring teachers passing the four required tests dropped by 20 percent from previous years. Students may retake tests they failed.

Under a provision in the new state budget, any graduate-level teacher training program that has fewer than 50 percent of its students pass each certification exam for three consecutive years will not be able to admit new students.

The earlier test that Judge Wood ruled was discriminatory, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, was used until 2004. She said that because the minority candidates were failing that test in greater numbers, the burden was on public officials to prove the test served a valid purpose. In similar rulings, judges around the country have thrown out written exams for firefighters and police officers, ruling they were not relevant to the tasks they would perform.

Judge Wood ruled that officials had not shown that the material on the test “accurately measured the minimum knowledge about the liberal arts and sciences that teachers need to be competent.”

She is also expected to rule soon on whether a replacement test with the same name, which was in use from 2004 to 2013, was also discriminatory. If she decides that it was, thousands of additional people who failed the test during that time and thus were barred from full-time teaching positions could make claims against the city for back pay and other benefits. A testing expert appointed by the court submitted a report in February that concluded the state had not proved the test was relevant.

The test is, in fact, more about reasoning ability than factual knowledge:

The new literacy test that is now under scrutiny by Judge Wood “requires the teacher to demonstrate an understanding of evidence found in texts and uses cogent reasoning to analyze and synthesize ideas,” according to the State Education Department. “The teacher produces complex and nuanced writing by choosing words, information, and structure deliberately for a given task, purpose, and audience.”

Sample questions provided by the state include a passage about Gertrude Stein’s life in Paris, followed by questions about the passage, and two passages about federal energy policy that the test-taker is asked to analyze in short written responses.

This skill set strikes me as perfectly reasonable as a minimum standard for classroom teachers. The blogospheric commenters on the case are mostly echoing versions of this theme:

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates tougher certification requirements, said the judge’s questioning of the test was troubling. “I want to ask Judge Wood,” Ms. Walsh said, “would she be willing to have any of these teachers teach her own children or grandchildren, and I would bet my life she’d say no.”

“They’re saying, at the risk of not appearing racist, or at the risk of having to make a hard call against adults, I’m going to sacrifice the best needs of kids,” she added.

Regardless, the judge appears to be applying the law as it exists rather than making up public policy through her equity powers. The state of the law in these matters is, indeed, that disparate results shifts the burden of proof to the state. That strikes me as crazy, but it’s the law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

[UPDATE] OzarkHillbilly observes in the first comment below that this is as it should be in that,

When a policy (like voter ID) shows racial inequalities in it’s results, there is a problem with the policy. In this case, the problem may be in the test, or it may be in something that happens earlier in the process (including schools, education funding, etc, these things can and do limit a persons potentialities and they have and do continue to affect those of color more than whites). Either way it is indicative of a problem in the process and it is incumbent upon the state to find the problem and fix it.

I agree  but that’s a different thing entirely. It’s one thing to argue there’s a public policy need to solve the problem of racial inequality and quite another to argue that a policy clearly motivated by something other than race should be halted when there’s disparate racial impact.

If we’re failing to prepare black teachers as well as white ones, we should absolutely fix that. But that doesn’t mean that unprepared teachers, of whatever race, should be sent into the classroom. Indeed, given that black teachers are likely to be disproportionately hired in districts that have more black students, doing so would perpetuate the problem. [/UPDATE]

As an aside, those of you over a certain age may recall the name “Kimba Wood.”  She came to public prominence when Bill Clinton put her name forward for US Attorney General but became his second choice for that post in a row (following Zoe Baird) to be disqualified for having hired an illegal alien as a nanny for her children.* She was, incidentally, put into her current post by one Ronald Wilson Reagan way back in 1987.

________________

*Correction: The original version of the post appended ” and failing to pay Social Security taxes.” But, as Patterico reminds me in the comments, that applied only to Baird. 

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Education, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The state of the law in these matters is, indeed, that disparate results shifts the burden of proof to the state.

    As it should. When a policy (like voter ID) shows racial inequalities in it’s results, there is a problem with the policy. In this case, the problem may be in the test, or it may be in something that happens earlier in the process (including schools, education funding, etc, these things can and do limit a persons potentialities and they have and do continue to affect those of color more than whites). Either way it is indicative of a problem in the process and it is incumbent upon the state to find the problem and fix it.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: See edit to OP.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    If you really want to limit the potential of middle class and blue collar people, put them in a classroom with a teacher who does not know the subject and is below average in intelligence. One does not get students excited about learning by putting them in classroom with a teacher who is not excited about learning but was hired on a quota.

  4. Tyrell says:

    Just give them the same reading (English) and math tests that fourth graders have to take. How about that, Judge Wood ? Would that work for you, or do you find some sort of “discrimination” in that ?
    I would assume that these teachers have a college degree. Then some of them need to get a refund of their tuition.
    Standards to be a teacher should be raised, not lowered. Judge Wood just doubled the number of students who will be getting home schooled, attending charter and private schools.
    Judges need to stay out of the schools. Stick to your courtroom, country club, and golf course.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Don’t disagree with any of that James. My point is only that without the persuasion of a hammer, the state is all too likely to stay with the status quo. I obviously enough am saying that I don’t even know what the problem is, much less the solution, only that it is obvious there is a problem.

    Unfortunately, it is all too likely that the state will merely paper over the problem with a ‘fix’ that does little more than hide the disparities as opposed to actually fixing what is causing them because it is easier and cheaper to do that.

  6. Lit3Bolt says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Superdestroyer’s a little bit racist….ALL the time!

    Just so you know, don’t believe everything you read in the Stormfront newsletter.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Agreed. I do wonder the extent to which race here is just a proxy for social class and other factors. This is New York we’re talking about, not Mississippi, so there was no overt Jim Crow-type system in place.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: One thing I learned from listening to this Terry Gross interview***, racism, and it’s worse excesses were not limited to the Jim Crow south, and it echoes thru today in ways both subtle and overt, all over the country.

    ***cannot recommend enough that one listens to that interview:

    Fifty years after the repeal of Jim Crow, many African-Americans still live in segregated ghettos in the country’s metropolitan areas. Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, has spent years studying the history of residential segregation in America.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer:

    If you really want to limit the potential of middle class and blue collar people,

    I wasn’t going to reply to you because I know the only thing missing from the above is “white”. However, after thinking a bit, this deserves something:

    put them in a classroom with a teacher who does not know the subject and is below average in intelligence. One does not get students excited about learning by putting them in classroom with a teacher who is not excited about learning but was hired on a quota.

    I know all too well, all too much about “not getting excited about learning” because I was a product of a substandard educational system. Take note, I say “system” not school because in the early ’70s a school was little more than a warehouse all too often. (my grad class was over 600 students) I had an American History teacher say on the first day of school one year, “You can fail every test and every assignment and still pass this class if you show up every day. I didn’t bother showing up except for the tests and to turn in assignments and got an ‘A’, because I already knew more Am His than he was ever gonna teach. By the time I graduated I was completely burned out (I rarely went to class my senior year, with one notable exception who’s class I never skipped- she challenged me) and only did so for my parents.***

    One more thing: I was in an upper middle class school district, all my teachers were white and I suspect reasonably intelligent, and also every bit as bored with the whole venture as I was.

    *** I tried several times over the years to further my education with halting success, accumulating about 2 yrs, but always I reached a hump I could not get over.

  10. ktward says:

    The judge found that National Evaluation Systems, now called Evaluation Systems, part of Pearson Education, went about the process backward.

    Pearson Education? Ah. Then it is entirely possible the test-maker really is the problem. Sounds like a good call on the judge’s part to me.

    John Oliver had a thing or thirteen to report about Pearson. (It’s an amusing bit, but if you wanna cut to the chase, skip to 10:45.)
    https://youtu.be/J6lyURyVz7k

  11. DrDaveT says:

    One would think that, to be ruled racially discriminatory would require affirmative proof of either discriminatory intent or specific discriminatory content.

    Why would one think that? This is not a criminal or civil action against the testers, where the burden of proof would be on the prosecution. This is an attempt to get it right, where a gross disparity like the one shown needs to be explained. As @OzarkHillbilly correctly observed, we already know there’s a problem that the state needs to fix — now we have to find out which problem we have.

    But I’m actually more bothered by this:

    But it strikes me as a priori obvious that, to be an effective teacher, it would be exceedingly helpful to know the things required of a college graduate

    Which college graduate? Which field? There are many successful doctors, engineers, MBAs, etc. who don’t know squat about liberal arts, and don’t want to.

    Just how much do you think one needs to know about the poetry of Catullus or the motivations of the pre-Raphaelites, in order to teach fourth graders effectively? In order to teach high school algebra? In order to teach gym, or auto mechanics, or chemistry?

    On the flip side, I’m pretty sure the screening test for basic mathematical skills that I would write would fail essentially every teaching candidate they have. I think math is important too — but that doesn’t mean I think nobody is qualified to teach anything.

  12. DrDaveT says:

    @DrDaveT: Doubling down:

    This skill set strikes me as perfectly reasonable as a minimum standard for classroom teachers.

    That’s exactly the problem. You have somehow reached a point where you think a test of something that is at best tangentially related to the job at hand is a perfectly reasonable minimum standard.

    My 8th grade math teacher was one of the best teachers I ever had. Great control of the classroom; great presence; mastery of the material; an ability to explain complicated things in multiple ways; an empathy with the kids who weren’t getting it. He would not have passed this test.

  13. Another Mike says:

    Being required to demonstrate competency in liberal arts to teach is racially discriminatory, a federal judge has ruled.

    I do not know about racially discriminatory, but I definitely think it is culturally biased.

    I looked at the sample question on the Gertrude Stein passage. I am familiar with the name, but do not know really who she was, and I am not sure there is any reason I want to know. Unless this test is specific for English literature teachers, I do not know why this test even exists.

    Since this is the second try pleasing this judge, my prediction is that she will not be pleased until the test is dropped.

  14. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: Yes, but knowing the subject does not always equate to being able to teach it. And math is seen as difficult to teach. We have seen this in sports: many a top player flopped as a coach. So both knowledge of subject matter and ability to teach should be essential. But other factors are parent involvement: too often parents turn their responsibilities over to the school; teachers can’t do it alone. Teachers and principals must be given authority to set high standards of behavior – and to deal with students who will not follow them. The federal government recently put in some misguided limits on the authority of the school to remove disruptive, violent students.
    This judge should have to go into a school and work for a few weeks, doing every job, duty, meeting, training, papers, forms, and other activities that teachers have to do. That should also apply to school board members, administrators, and politicians. I talked to a state school board member a few years ago who said that he had hardly ever been in a public school, he had attended private schools ! Shocking ! The big problem with schools today is that you have politicians, lawyers, and judges telling teachers how to do their jobs.
    Some of the best schools in the country are inner city. There they have high standards of learning and behavior. They have been given authority. See Capitol Prep school in Hartford CT. It is lead by Director Steve Perry, a no nonsense, no excuse person when it comes to education.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @ktward: I saw the John Oliver segment some time ago and it is indeed amusing. And, yes, there are issues with standardized testing. But, ironically, Pearson is made fun of here for the weird pineapple-hare story which was almost certainly included precisely because of the much earlier issue that these tests were culturally biased because they expected baseline familiarities. By introducing a nonsense story which none of the children would have prior knowledge, they eliminate that problem.

    @DrDaveT: @Another Mike: I don’t know all that much about Getrude Stein, much less “the poetry of Catullus or the motivations of the pre-Raphaelites.” But that’s not what’s being tested. And, sure, you could construct mathematical tests that the teachers—or, indeed, I—couldn’t pass. But that’s not what’s happening here.

    Look at the sample questions. They’re given short reading passages, containing every bit of information relevant to the questions, and then asked questions to demonstrate that they could comprehend the passages. That strikes me as, yes, a minimum standard.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    I always find it odd that when educational issues come up one can always count on progressives putting social engineering ahead of academic education.

    I guess that as long as it is the middle class and blue collar families that get the teachers who are at the bottom of the achievement list it does not matter. I guess it really is true that progressives see the public schools as a place of social engineering first, a jobs program second, and a place for academic education last.

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @James Joyner:

    I guess all of the progressives are missing the point that reading comprehensive is not really a racist.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    They’re given short reading passages, containing every bit of information relevant to the questions, and then asked questions to demonstrate that they could comprehend the passages.

    It’s a test of reading facility, vocabulary, and (to a larger extent than you will admit) familiarity with the conventions of academic writing. Take, for example:

    Which phrase is closest in meaning to the word “cataclysmically” as it is used in the sentence above?
    * with furious upheaval
    * with unrelenting violence
    * with reckless abandon
    * with shocking suddenness

    Are you seriously arguing that someone who thinks that ‘cataclysmically’ is being used there to mean “with shocking suddenness” rather than “with furious upheaval” is ipso facto incompetent to teach elementary school, or high school chemistry, or marching band, or geometry???

    It’s an appallingly bad question, much worse than I was expecting. Only one of the answers is obviously wrong, and the other three all reflect usages of the word that you could find in the New York Times on any given day. It is perfectly possible to know very well what a cataclysm is and still get the question wrong. While it is probably true that people who get this question right are better-educated than people who do not, this is not an achievement test — it’s a minimum competency test.

    Frankly, just making it a test of how easily one reads is bad enough. My father-in-law would fail this test, and he is a past president of a major international engineering society.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I guess it really is true that progressives see the public schools as a place of social engineering first, a jobs program second, and a place for academic education last.

    Interesting statement coming from a conservative, all of who’s political leaders see public schools as a place of profit first, profit second, and profit third.

  20. DrDaveT says:

    @DrDaveT: Follow up — I gave that question to my wife, and her first choice was not the answer they were looking for. My wife has an ivy league JD, a degree in history, and a stack of teaching awards. Apparently she’s not good enough to teach in NYC.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I guess all of the progressives are missing the point that reading comprehensive (sic) is not really a (sic) racist.

    The irony is palpable. Good thing you don’t want to teach in New York…

  22. bandit says:

    It’s farking hilarious watching progs twist themselves into knots trying to explain why expecting minimal competence is racist.

    The soft bigotry of low expectations in action.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @DrDaveT: I hate the over reliance on testing in so many segments of our society. Some things can’t be tested.

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @bandit: It’s farking hilarious watching racists twist themselves into knots just to avoid exposing the fact that they can’t even define minimal competence.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: Fair enough, I guess. It didn’t strike me as a particularly hard question given the context. Someone coming right out of college shouldn’t have much difficulty with it. It’s possible that a more senior but highly competent teacher, who’s been out of that milieu for a couple decades, might miss it.

  26. Another Mike says:

    @James Joyner:

    They’re given short reading passages, containing every bit of information relevant to the questions, and then asked questions to demonstrate that they could comprehend the passages. That strikes me as, yes, a minimum standard.

    I am not arguing against that, as I agree, but there is too much cultural baggage with choosing someone like Gertrude Stein to base the passage on. She is culturally irrelevant to me, a white, college-educated man of above-average intelligence. I can see many other people with even less interest in reading about her than I have. People are liable to pass out from boredom before getting through it, and that will cost them the test.

    Maybe this Stein story is not representative of the test, and I am making too much out of it, but this test seems like a rite of passage dreamed up by the cultural elite in power.

    If that judge is thinking close to the way I am, the state probably should just drop the test. I am pretty sure my state has no such test requirement to teach.

  27. ktward says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, ironically, Pearson is made fun of here for the weird pineapple-hare story which was almost certainly included precisely because of the much earlier issue that these tests were culturally biased because they expected baseline familiarities. By introducing a nonsense story which none of the children would have prior knowledge, they eliminate that problem.

    Crikey, you’ve made my head spin.

    So, for no other reason than to spite their critics, Pearson introduced a question on their test–a test that so many of our children’s academic lives depend upon–a question we apparently all agree is *nonsense*.

    And you’re okay with that?

  28. michael reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT: @James Joyner:

    I don’t know the answer to the “cataclysmic” question and I’m usually pretty good with language. It’s a very stupid question that requires not an honest answer but a guess as to what the test-writer could have been thinking.

    Is that a racial thing? No. I think the claim that this is racist is nonsense. It maybe lousy test, and it may be an unnecessary, irrelevant test, but I’m not seeing the racism.

  29. James Joyner says:

    @ktward: I think the story is nonsensical but that doesn’t mean that you can’t ask reasonable questions based on it. I don’t think it was spite but rather an attempt to ensure that there was no cultural baggage. Presumably even the most deprived inner city kid knows what a pineapple is. (Although maybe the “hare” should have been a “rabbit.”)

    @michael reynolds: I agree that it’s not the best question.

  30. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    It didn’t strike me as a particularly hard question given the context. Someone coming right out of college shouldn’t have much difficulty with it.

    1. Bullsh!t. We’ve just shown that an extremely well-educated, well-read, intelligent professional can guess wrong about which sense of “cataclysmically” the test-writers favor in that context.
    2. Overall comprehension of the passage cited is unaffected by three of the four possible answers to the question. We’re talking really fine shades of nuance here that DO NOT MATTER to understanding what you’re reading. Are you really willing to kill careers before they start on that basis?
    3. The skill these questions test is essentially unrelated to the skills that make a good teacher. If you want to have a separate additional English proficiency test for future teachers of Advanced Placement English, go for it.
    4. You’re right that you wouldn’t pass the math test, even if I limit the questions to “basic competence” at a much lower level than this sample test. Should I be able to get you fired for that? If not, why not?

    The test doesn’t test the things we care most about, it doesn’t test anything well, and it shows a strong cultural bias. Why are you defending this thing?

  31. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m not seeing the racism.

    If it were a test to be a PE teacher in NYC, and all of the questions (and the physical skills test) were about golf, would you see the racism?

    What this test does is raise the entry bar in one tiny corner of performance space, to a level that is much less likely to be reached by people from certain cultural and economic backgrounds, and is uncorrelated with basic competence at the actual job. It may not be deliberately racist, but it has the same effect as if it were.

  32. ktward says:

    @michael reynolds:

    So, you’re sure the specific test question is stupid. And apparently you at least suspect the entire test is lousy, unnecessary, and irrelevant.

    To my mind, there’s also a racist element that bears reveal. But clearly, it was a already a shitty test before it was also flagged as potentially racist.

    Let’s not forget the reason why we think these tests are useful. And if they aren’t, in fact, all that useful anymore? What’s the next step?

  33. ktward says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think the story is nonsensical but that doesn’t mean that you can’t ask reasonable questions based on it.

    Sigh. You do remember that we’re talking standardized tests in education, right? I mean, this isn’t book club shit.

  34. Gustopher says:

    If we’re failing to prepare black teachers as well as white ones, we should absolutely fix that. But that doesn’t mean that unprepared teachers, of whatever race, should be sent into the classroom

    No one is arguing that unqualified teachers be put in the classroom.

    The test has a clear, measurable racial disparity in its outcome. This means either:
    A. the test is discriminatory
    B. there is a racial disparity in the preparation of the teachers that is relevant to their job
    C. there is a racial disparity in the preparation of the teachers that is irrelevant to their job

    Once it becomes clear that there is the racial disparity on the outcome of the test, it becomes a burden on the people using the test to show that this is case B. That seems reasonable.

    And that does not mean putting unqualified teachers in the classroom, it means demonstrating that the teachers being disqualified are actually unqualified.

  35. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t know the answer to the “cataclysmic” question and I’m usually pretty good with language. It’s a very stupid question that requires not an honest answer but a guess as to what the test-writer could have been thinking.

    Is that a racial thing? No. I think the claim that this is racist is nonsense. It maybe lousy test, and it may be an unnecessary, irrelevant test, but I’m not seeing the racism.

    What if there is some nuance as to how white people and black people use cataclysmic differently? Getting the correct answer then requires being white, without anyone being deliberately racist in creating the test. Perhaps it used in one sense in a song popular among African-Americans, and a different sense in a song more popular with Caucasians?

    To get a better understanding, we would need a racial breakdown of the test question by question.

    Actually, that seems like a very good idea — if there is a strong racial disparity in the answers on a specific question, stop and examine that question and whether it is relevant and a good question. If it isn’t a good question, drop it from the scoring for everyone.

  36. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Presumably even the most deprived inner city kid knows what a pineapple is.

    Why would you presume that?

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT: @ktward: @Gustopher:

    1) I don’t believe much in tests, period because I’m really good at them. I scored 99th percentile on the English SAT, and IIRC 80th percentile on math. I had dropped out after 10th grade and I can neither diagram a sentence nor perform even the most basic algebra. Tests have a tendency to test one thing: G. General intelligence, IQ. I also beat the biology test despite having taken exactly zero biology courses. I can read, I can comprehend what I read, and I grasp Latin and Greek root words. And that’s bingo.

    Can a person with say 30 fewer IQ points but much better education beat me? How do you beat 99th percentile? Tests are bullsh!t because the top ranks will inevitably be filled by people with high IQs, whether or not they have any knowledge of the subject.

    2) But let’s pretend that tests are something other than a disguised IQ test, let’s pretend they actually test knowledge. If that’s the case then we only have to ask whether the curriculum matches the test. If all students have Curriculum A and all take Test B which closely matches the curriculum, then race and culture are irrelevant, unless what you’re saying is that some populations are unable to learn the curriculum. And if that’s what you’re saying then your problem is not with the test but with either the curriculum or the students.

    3) If you want to judge the capacity of a test to reflect actual knowledge, then you need to norm for IQ because a high IQ individual can essentially fake a degree of knowledge that will push otherwise qualified people down the ranks.

    4) But from my experience of teachers, both as a student (briefly) and as a father of school age kids, tells me that IQ is hardly the most relevant factor. In fact, high IQ is probably death to a teacher since teaching over the course of 20 years gets to be repetitive and very smart people tend to become impatient with routine.

    5) Personally, I would find a way to screen for empathy, patience, tolerance and humor. Then I would add enthusiasm and passion for the specific subject. And then I’d make sure they had the essential knowledge base and the skills specific to teaching. The smartest guy in the room is almost never the best teacher. The best teacher is the one who wants to teach and can do the job year after year. The smartest guy in the room is not going to settle for a career that tops out at 100k, a career where promotion ends up meaning you leave teaching altogether and do an administrative job.

    tl;dr: Tests are bullsh!t.

  38. Patterico says:

    I believe Kimba Wood paid her Social Security taxes on the illegal she employed. You should fix that.

  39. Tyrell says:

    @michael reynolds: “Tops out at 100k $” :the teacher salary scale here tops out around $50-$60,000 after 30 years. Having a masters and National Board certification can get you a little more. Principals can make more, but not always since they are paid on experience and size of the school. So you often have teachers making more than the principal. But, everything is relative. Here the cost of living is cheaper than a lot of places, just not much to do unless you like stock car racing.
    My father said that just because somebody has a fishing license doesn’t mean they are going to bring home a load of bass.

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell:

    I think top teachers in Marin County can break 100k, but then, they’re living in a very expensive area.

    Interestingly, if you follow this link you’ll see a difference of 17k between teachers in Marin City vs. Mill Valley or Larkspur.

    Guess where minorities are concentrated in Marin County.

  41. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: The smartest guy in the room is also the one who has probably never struggled to understand something beyond his abilities, and never had to learn how to learn.

    I was the smartest guy in the room through high school and then I went to one of the best colleges and discovered that the slightly dim people were way, way better prepared than me. They had to learn how to learn long before then. I failed out, and that was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

    The people who were smarter than me and were able to coast through college… They are all libertarians now.

  42. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    There’s a lot of truth in that. The proof of performance is performance, not some test. And in most jobs personality will be more important than IQ.

    I have a genius kid and I have a learning differences kid, the classic hare vs. tortoise. Guess which one can’t be bothered to show up for school aad has been within a hair of flunking out for the last two years of high school? Guess which one gets homework done on time.

    Very smart people want to game the system not work within it. IQ has very little to do with teaching. I’ve encountered a couple of genuinely great teachers and they were not geniuses. Testing teachers for IQ is kinda dumb for everyone but the testing companies which get rich.

  43. James Joyner says:

    @Patterico: Fixed! Thanks–it’s been a long time and my memory was fuzzy.

    @ktward: Sure. I’m just saying that one can tell a silly story, using nonsensical facts that would be unfamiliar to readers, and still ask worthwhile questions about said story.

    @michael reynolds: @Gustopher: @DrDaveT: I agree that the test is less than ideal and is perhaps even tangential to the requirements of the job, especially if elementary school teachers and gym teachers are being required to take it. I’m dubious that race has anything to do with it.

    @DrDaveT: College teaching is a very different thing, in that it requires deep but narrow expertise in a subject. The PhD is a pretty effective barrier to entry and the hiring process typically allows selection from dozens, if not hundreds, of extraordinarily qualified applicants for each job.

  44. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    @michael reynolds: I agree that it’s not the best question.

    But you’re OK with firing people who don’t give the expected answer. That’s the part I can’t grok.

  45. DrDaveT says:

    @bandit:

    It’s farking hilarious watching progs twist themselves into knots trying to explain why expecting minimal competence is racist.

    I have to laugh at these various attempts to spin this as about dumbing down standards, or subordinating education to “social engineering”.

    As it happens, I am both a hardass about teacher qualifications and a complete elitist about access to secondary and higher education — both positions that are waaaaaay out of step with progressive norms. If this test had anything to do with actual teacher qualifications, I would be 100% behind it, regardless of ethnic or economic trends in underperformance.

  46. michael reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Who said I’m okay with firing them? I think the whole system is ridiculous. I don’t think it’s racist, just stupid and beside the point. I would never fire anyone over a standardized test. The only guy I want to fire is the mechanic at my car dealership who can’t fix my damn window.

  47. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    But you’re OK with firing people who don’t give the expected answer. That’s the part I can’t grok.

    I hadn’t read the test questions–just the description of them in the second linked NYT article–when I wrote the OP. My point was basically that:

    1. Requiring teachers to be able to grok the meaning of a couple of paragraphs of writing seems perfectly reasonable.
    2. Doing so isn’t obviously discriminatory against racial minorities.
    3. Even if minorities writ large have a cultural disadvantage, we’re talking about college graduates here—and specifically those who we’re trusting to impart cultural norms to our youth.

    Having read the questions, I think they’re less than ideal but still not racially discriminatory and not obviously covered by the 1964 CRA. Nor am I thrilled with the idea of judges taking precedence over school authorities in deciding what’s appropriate baseline knowledge for teachers.

    Still, I’m sympathetic to @michael reynolds that standardized tests are generally problematic and that even IQ isn’t a great proxy for ability to teach pre-college level courses.

  48. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Who said I’m okay with firing them?

    Nobody. I was quoting James’s response to you, in my reply to that response. Apologies for any confusion.

  49. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    Having read the questions, I think they’re less than ideal but still not racially discriminatory and not obviously covered by the 1964 CRA.

    The giant blind spot, where you first present the racially disparity in the results, and then after perusing a few questions come to the conclusion that because you cannot see a bias in the questions there cannot be one, is really symptomatic of the Republican worldview. A mixture of a distrust in science, a lack of imagination for others conditions if not actually a lack of empathy, and a touch of optimism that we are past all of that.

    You have clear evidence of an effect. You have no evidence of the cause of the effect, so you pick the one you are comfortable with — there were no questions asking the test taker to pick whether their skin tone is best characterized as “the inside of a banana”, “the outside of a banana”, “mocha” or “chocolate”, so the disparity must be something else.

    I don’t think that the people who wrote the test meant it to be a racial filter. I don’t know whether it is a racial filter, or whether there are other causes for the outcomes. But I would want it much more carefully examined once the outcome is seen.

  50. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    but I’m not seeing the racism.

    Then you aren’t looking at the results.

  51. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t think that the people who wrote the test meant it to be a racial filter. I don’t know whether it is a racial filter, or whether there are other causes for the outcomes. But I would want it much more carefully examined once the outcome is seen.

    This. Many times this. The results speak for themselves.

  52. Andy says:

    When I joined the Navy in 1993 about 2/3 of the black recruits in my section had to take remedial swimming compared to about 1/3 of the white recruits. Those who couldn’t meet the swim standards were required to do extra training until they met the standard. Those who couldn’t in a reasonable amount of time were washed out from boot camp (which was a very a small number of people).

    Ultimately the solution is not to lower standards. The Navy test and requirement for swimming ability was not racist because more white people could pass it. The Navy took (and continues to take) the time and energy to train the people who don’t meet the standard regardless of ethnicity.

    That is what we should be doing in education and other fields. If someone can’t pass the a test then afford them the opportunity to learn and try again.

  53. Zachriel says:

    Reminiscent of how being able to speak Latin was once used to keep the riff-raff out.

  54. michael reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    That is non-falsifiable and I have a problem with that. That is conclusion first, evidence later.

    I believe all groups are roughly equal, but I allow for peaks and valleys in there, for difference and diversity. We don’t all need to be identical to be equal. I am prepared to face the fact that my subset, my little tribe is inferior to some other group in some abstract measurement of bullsh!t that doesn’t really mean anything.

    So, if a fair test – a thing I don’t believe exists – were to show that there are differences between the performance of one random, bullsh!t group and the next equally random bullsh!t group, I don’t believe that is ipso facto proof of racism. Or of much of anything.

    I’m saying this whole approach is wrong. I’m saying I can take the teacher’s exam tomorrow and beat 90% of teachers college graduates and that fact is meaningless because I would be a terrible teacher. I can barely stand my own kids. I can’t even teach the one thing I know really well, and I’ve been asked. All tests are to some extent a proxy for IQ, and since IQ is not particularly relevant to teaching it seems to me that the tests are nonsense and we’d better find a better way to judge talent.

    I have brought in absurdly expensive specialists to help one of my kids with reading, but nothing has been as important as one teacher setting up a program to let kids self-publish. I’ll bet you ten thousand dollars (a Romney) I can beat that woman on a test. But she’s the one who got my kid to care. To me that’s how you judge whether someone is or is not a teacher.

  55. JKB says:

    @James Joyner: I do wonder the extent to which race here is just a proxy for social class and other factors.

    I don’t think you are too far off believing it is a proxy. I just read Theodore Dalrymple’s ‘Life at the Bottom’. His descriptions of what he terms the underclass, vice lumping all the economically poor, are mostly of the habits of the White English underclass, but reading it the similarities to the American underclass are obvious. These similarities obviate the all to quick rush to attribute the habits of the underclass to racial minorities that happens when discussing American inner city “ghettos”.

    This does not mean that the underclass might not be overrepresented in the US by minorities. After all the Black community has had professional organization to promote the underclass habits for 50+ years. And the Progressive intellectuals focused their attention on the Black and Hispanic communities, to most part ignoring the White underclass.

    Now if we suppose that many of the teachers who can’t pass the test grew up in areas with a lot of the underclass, even as they try to escape it, they still would be influenced by the endemic lack of a sense of agency, the disdain for education to the point of abuse of the studious, and schools where they never were shown the levels students at better schools were pushed to, but were perhaps the top students in a very weak student pool. Minority teachers would also have the further risk of affirmative action in their higher education and thus not pushed to the higher levels, perhaps not even shown those levels.

  56. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    All tests are to some extent a proxy for IQ

    I think you are extrapolating too far from your own experience. Yes, for those with very high IQ or a particular aptitude for decoding multiple choice tests the tests will be easy and they will pass well regardless of knowledge. The inverse is also true. I am in that first group, I can take a standardized multiple choice test on most anything and at least pass if not do very well regardless of knowledge. If I were only looking at this from my experience taking tests I’d most likely agree with you.
    I spent a fair bit of time tutoring during and after college. One of the things I taught was test prep for standardized tests. I taught individually for people that could afford exhorbitant rates for a prep program and in free programs for underserved communities. I spent weeks working with the kids on basic skills and on skills specific to the tests. In my experience the tests gave reasonably accurate results for the middle 70-80% of students. That is far from perfect, but also far from the complete train wreck you describe.

  57. mike shupp says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m not quite sure this is a racist test, but it certainly is elitist. Think of this way: suppose you’re a college student in the late 20th century who finds modernism and the arts in general to be exciting; you’ve read lots of Hemingway and some Joyce, you’ve learned the difference between Impressionism and surrealist painting, you think Dada is F*U*N, and so forth. You’re a fucking giddy Vassar or Radcliffe graduate of about 1960. And you know about Gertrude Stein, backwards and forwards. And reading these half dozen paragraphs gives you no problems at all. Stein’s lifework, so to speak, was watching the arts change as societies evolved during the 20th century, The questions are all about that, and if you contemplate an answer that doesn’t fit that template, you know it’s a wrong answer.

    Suppose, on the other hand, you never were interested in 20th century cultural history, or even all that much in the arts. You think kids should read and you’d like to teach them, but Tolkein and JK Rowling and a couple of standard Bible books have been good enough for you in terms of English, and you’re fairly certain it’s going to be good enough for most of your students. You’re much more interested in teaching junior high kids about simple algebra and some decent amount of history and being able to speak without mumbling than in Hemingway and Eliot and Proust and Gide. Also you’re an average graduate or a run-of-the-mill public high school and you went to a far-from-esteemed state university where your required English courses involved nothing but a few multiple-guess exams. You look at these half dozen paragraphs and you are NOT filled with sweet familiarity. You’re filled with “Huh? What is this shit?” You do NOT instantly see the connecting threads.

    No racism here, right? No suggestion of class distinctions, or unequal standards of preparatory education. We’re just asking about minimal competency in comprehension and vocabulary, Uh-huh.

  58. superdestroyer says:

    @Gustopher:

    Virtually every test in the U.S. has a huge racial disparity. All 50 states have a huge racial gap on the NAEP tests at all grade levels and all subjects withe blue states like New Jersey and Connecticut have the largest gaps. The SAT/ACT gap is huge. The gap on GRE, MCAT. LSAT is huge. Blacks fail to pass the bar exam and state board exams for health care professionals is significant.

    Arguing that racial disparities in test results in prima facie evidence of racism is just proposing all exams and tests in the U.S. It is even an argument against graduation standards from secondary schools and universities since blacks have a higher failure rate than whites.

    If every single standardized test is racist and virtually every single college and university is racist, then what is the point of the education system. If academic performance cannot be used for decision making, then progressives are proposing to do away with schools and academic education.

  59. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    So, according to Social Justice Theory, correlation equals causation — unless proven otherwise.

    SCIENCE!!!!!

  60. DrDaveT says:

    @superdestroyer:

    If every single standardized test is racist and virtually every single college and university is racist, then what is the point of the education system.

    If you are really incapable of distinguishing between “this particular test does not test the relevant skills, and what it does test is predictably racially biased” versus “every single standardized test is racist”, there’s not much the rest of us can do for you.

    Once more, for the slow: if the qualification test in question were really a valid test of qualifications to teach, I would be in favor of it, regardless of any differences in success by ethnic or economic group. In that case, the challenge would be to address the reasons for the lack of qualifications in the underperforming groups. However, since in this case doing well on the test is unrelated to actually being qualified for the job, the much simpler solution is to throw away the test.

  61. michael reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:

    You and I are not alone, there are enough of us to warp the numbers. The larger point is that if what’s being tested is essentially IQ, and I believe it is, then what is the point of this test? We are becoming obsessed by tests because we wrongly believe them to be objective. We are evidently afraid of normal management practices – a school principal acting as school executive and making appropriate judgments about the capabilities of employees.

  62. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    From my (limited) experience teaching several hundred students test prep over about 10 years, the SAT gives a pretty accurate assessment of knowledge/skills for the middle 70% or so. It is a test that can be fooled by exceptional IQ and by exceptionally good or poor test taking skills, but for the majority of students it is testing what it is designed to test (again based on my interaction with and observation of students). I’m on vacation now so can’t be fussed to look up the study, but if memory serves SAT results do correlate well with college success. That would indicate that it is doing a passable job of testing for what it was designed to test for. Any instrument will be imperfect, but there need to be instruments for testing accross schools, curricula, and the subjective assessments of administrators.

  63. tjcooper says:

    Did Asians pass at a higher rate than everyone else? If so, then apparent the test is biased for everyone

    I feel sorry for blacks. To be treated like helpless children all the time must be very maddening….. or not.

  64. Monala says:

    @Tyrell: Credit where credit is due. Great comment, and great points about making sure the decision makers know what it means to do the frontline work.

  65. Monala says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Exactly. I remember reading an article in the 1990s about the civil service test for police officers in Boston, the results of which had been characterized as racially disparate. The Globe printed 10 questions from the test, which were very similar to SAT questions, except that they involved police language.

    I’m a well-educated person, and I answered all 10 questions correctly. Yet I know that means nothing as far as my capability to serve as a police officer. I lack the physical strength, mental toughness, and instincts for the job.

  66. Grumpy Realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: have you looked into the stuff available on line? Lot of stuff that doesn’t cost anything.

    I’m still burnt out from law school but at some point want to learn Korean and Welsh.

  67. Grumpy Realist says:

    My own experience with the GRE is that if you have a degree in math or physics you’re likely to trash your scores a bit because you know more than the test-makers when it comes to math. Also, don’t take the GRE and any other test back-to-back. Third, I fell asleep while taking the LSAT out of acute boredom.

  68. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    That is non-falsifiable and I have a problem with that. That is conclusion first, evidence later.

    How are the questions of whether or not the test acts as a racial filter and is the test an accurate assessment of skills and knowledge needed for the job non-falsifiable?
    The conclusion hasn’t come first, results of a test have indicated there is reason for more study. We cannot say with any certainty that the test itself is unfair to specific groups now, but that is what the extra scrutiny is there to determine.

    I’m saying this whole approach is wrong. I’m saying I can take the teacher’s exam tomorrow and beat 90% of teachers college graduates and that fact is meaningless because I would be a terrible teacher.

    It’s good that that isn’t the only barrier to teaching then. Some of those other barriers are BS, but this test isn’t the only or even the primary barrier.

  69. DrDaveT says:

    @Tyrell:

    Yes, but knowing the subject does not always equate to being able to teach it.

    Of course; where did I ever say otherwise?

    What I have said, repeatedly, is that some of the best teachers I ever had would not have done well on this test. To me, that proves the test is worse than useless for the purpose of screening out “unqualified” teachers. I couldn’t agree more that book learning is at best a distant third in importance as a teacher qualification, behind things like “ability to handle kids” and “ability to motivate kids”. But mostly, I claim that the particular test that is the subject of this article is extremely ill-suited to its purpose, with nasty side-effects to boot.

  70. Pharoah Narim says:

    @James Joyner: And here is where you err–it is not a minimum standard for Teaching. Teaching is a communication and influence art. The effective Teacher will induce the student to learn using various techniques until the light flicks on. Being able to understand the main point of the paragraph is assessing learning ability not teaching. They’re testing for the wrong skill sets. If they really wanted to screen for the best teachers, they’d have them come teach a mock lesson an a subject they were unfamiliar with. Teacher is a gamer profession. They don’t draft QBs in the NFL off Wonderlic scores.