Tests Found Barring Thousands Of Minority Teacher Candidates
Almost 38,000 minority candidates have been excluded from the teaching profession--many in the last five years--because of their failure to pass state-mandated competency tests, a new study has found.
The unpublished report, "The Effects of Competency Testing on the Supply of Minority Teachers," is one of the most comprehensive investigations of the subject to date.
Determining the cause for the minority-teacher shortage has become an increasingly sensitive issue in recent years, particularly as the problem approaches what many consider to be crisis proportions.
Fewer than 12.5 percent of American6teachers are now members of a minority group. Moreover, that proportion is shrinking at a time when minority students will soon constitute nearly 30 percent of the school-age population.
Earlier versions of the competency-testing study had already stirred some controversy about how much testing has contributed to the dwindling supply of minority teachers, compared with the poor quality of minority education in general and the availability of job opportunities in other fields.
According to its author, G. Pritchy Smith, "The impact of state testing policies makes it difficult not to conclude that the minority teaching force is under assault."
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"State-mandated competency testing is one of the major reasons for the minority-teacher shortage," writes the professor of education at the University of North Florida. And he predicts that if current trends continue unabated, fewer than 5 percent of America's teachers will be members of a minority group by the year 2000.
Mr. Smith, a longtime foe of existing competency tests and one of the first researchers to examine their demographic impact, said last week that the tests should be abolished in favor of fairer and more accurate measures of "applied knowledge and skills in the classroom."
The Educational Testing Service is now working to replace the National Teachers Examination--the most widely used teacher test--with a new series of assessments that are intended to provide a more accurate picture of teachers' skills and knowledge.
But some of Mr. Smith's conclusions nonetheless drew a sharp retort last week from Gregory Anrig, president of the ets Mr. Anrig, who had been asked to review an earlier draft of the report last October, raised questions at that time about its methodology. He also queried whether the report's conclusions could be supported by the available data.
Last week, he said that at least in the earlier version, Mr. Smith's estimates regarding the total number of minority candidates who had been barred from the profession were "wrong, unfair, and unsupported."
In addition, Mr. Anrig said, "one cannot assume that if a teacher fails a licensing test, it is the test that's at fault, since the licensing test is supposed to measure the basic skills that a teacher is required to have."
"You're not going to serve students well--black or white--by giving them teachers who can't themselves master the basic skills," he said.
The primary solution, Mr. Anrig argued, is not to abolish the tests or lower the standards, but to provide better education and preparation for minority candidates.
Other reviewers of the document were more supportive of Mr. Smith's assessment.
Mr. Smith's report was one of four commissioned by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Education Association on the topic of the minority-teacher shortage.
The other three papers focus on the demographics of the minority teaching force; the effects of expanded job opportunities on the supply of minority teachers; and the validity and use of current teacher tests.
The papers were scheduled to be released in a joint monograph last December. But according to Ramsay Selden, who is coordinating the project for the ccsso, two of the authors are still revising their documents.
Mr. Smith said he had decided to try to publish his paper independently through the eric clearinghouse because "the data is going to get old."
"I think I've waited a reasonable time--a year," he said.
Mr. Anrig was one of three external reviewers asked to comment on Mr. Smith's paper. Several people speculated last week that Mr. Anrig's strong, negative reaction to the paper may be related to the publication delay. But officials from both the nea and the ccsso denied the charge, saying they were anxious to publish the documents as soon as possible.
Mr. Smith said he did not know why the delay had occurred.
Said Mr. Anrig: "I have no trouble at all with data being put out publicly. All I want is whatever is published to be accurate."
According to many experts, accurate data regarding the impact of testing on minority teachers has been extremely difficult to obtain. Mr. Smith acknowledged that those difficulties had affected his own study.
The 184-page paper is based on testing data by race and ethnicity from 19 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
In 18 of those states, Mr. Smith obtained primary-source data from state education departments or individuals who had access to the data.
In one state, Arkansas, all of the data came from secondary sources, although the education department was cited as the original source of the information.
According to Mr. Smith, his "original objective of a careful, complete assessment of the impact of testing on minorities" was "difficult to achieve."
Some states do not have systemic longitudinal data by racial groups, he points out. Others report test results for only a few administrations of their tests, he says. And in other instances, the available reports lack internal mathematical consistency.
But he asserts that "despite inadequate reporting systems and the lack of consistent data for every state, the evidence is clear that disproportionate numbers of minority candidates have been and are being screened from the profession."
"This exclusionary trend is evident regardless of the state and regardless of the type of examination," Mr. Smith writes.
In 19 states, the study estimates, the exams have eliminated approximately 37,717 minority candidates and teachers--including 21,515 blacks, 10,142 Hispanics, 1,626 Asians, 716 Native Americans, and 3,718 members of other minorities.
Mr. Smith based his estimates primarily on data for first-time test-takers. Although many states allow teacher candidates to retake the tests, he writes, most did not provide cumulative data that would reveal whether or not multiple opportunities to take the tests significantly increased the passing rates.
In the few instances where such data were available, he notes, the impact of multiple testing opportunities varied widely. For that reason, he warns, his estimates could be "slightly inflated."
"However, when one considers the large number of test administrations for which data were not available in several of the states," Mr. Smith adds, "the numbers of excluded minority candidates are more likely to have been considerably underestimated."
According to the report, 46 states now require some form of competency test for admission to teacher-education programs and/or teacher licensing. Only Alaska reports no plans to test teachers.
Most of these tests consist of paper-and-pencil measures that purport to assess a candidate's basic skills, and general, professional, or subject-area knowledge.
Typical first-time passing rates on the exams ranged from 15 percent to 50 percent for black candidates, and from 71 percent to 96 percent for white candidates.
The passing rates for other minorities were also significantly lower than for white candidates. They ranged from 39 percent to 65 percent for Hispanics; 37 percent to 77 percent for Asian Americans; and 20 percent to 70 percent for Native Americans.
"Almost without exception," the report concludes, "state-determined cutoff scores on paper-and-pencil tests have been set at a level that eliminates a majority of the minority candidates either from teacher-education programs or from certification upon graduation, but permits a majority of the white candidates to pass."
Mr. Smith suggests that performance assessments and other measures of applied knowledge may be more appropriate instruments than paper-and-pencil tests for selecting qualified minority teachers.
Effect on Black Colleges
In addition to their negative effect on individual minority candidates, Mr. Smith argues, state-mandated testing programs have had a "devastating" impact on historically black institutions, which continue to supply a disproportionate number of minority teachers.
The most severely affected of these institutions, he found, were private liberal-arts colleges and universities that had small teacher-education programs prior to state-mandated testing.
Although some historically black institutions have increased the overall passing rates of their graduates on teacher tests, he writes, in general state testing programs have resulted in declining enrollments in teacher-education programs and fewer graduates taking and passing licensing exams.
In South Carolina, for instance, from October 1984 to October 1986, only 23 of 130 first-, second-, and third-time test-takers passed the admissions tests for teacher-education programs at Allen University, Beneel10ldict College, Claflin College, Morris College, and Voorhees College.
"After the first test administration," he writes, "more often than not, each of these separate private black institutions had fewer than six students sit for the test."
The impact at public historically black institutions has been similar but less severe, Mr. Smith contends. Many of these institutions, which have large enrollments, will be able to maintain their programs, despite a significant drop in their numbers, he predicts in the study.
"But the smaller institutions probably will have difficulty in maintaining their programs at all, if they're cut to four or five or six graduates a year," he said last week. "It just probably won't be cost-effective to offer teacher-education at these smaller institutions."
In addition, although supporting data are not yet available, the study predicts that few, if any, historically black colleges will be able to meet new requirements in Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida that tie the state's approval of a teacher-education program to students' test scores.
The study also says there is little evidence that the reduced enrollment in teacher-education programs at historically black institutions is paralleled by increasing black-student enrollments in teacher-education programs at predominantly white institutions.
"In fact," he writes, "minority enrollment appears to have declined in all institutions."
The study also reports a "noticeable absence" in many states of policies designed to minimize the impact of testing or to increase the numbers of minority teachers.
Data collected for the study, however, did not focus on such policies. And Mr. Smith admitted that he could not supply "definitive conclusions."
But according to the researcher, "the testing requirements ... for entry into teacher education restrict so severely the pool of minority candidates in most states that special recruiting programs and loan-and-scholarship incentive programs are rendered ineffective in increasing the number of minority teachers."
In an interview last week, Mr. Smith suggested that at a minimum, states that require tests for entrance into teacher-education programs or for licensure have an "obligation" to provide resources for programs to help students pass the exams.
In addition, he said, "I think every state is obliged to have a sophisticated data-collection system and to forthrightly report the data by racial group--and by a number of other demographic factors--so that we can monitor the impact of the examinations on our society."
A Favorable Reaction
Mr. Selden of the ccsso said last week that Mr. Smith's earlier versions of the paper had been "unnecessarily polemical" in their interpretations of the data. They also "left the impression that nothing is being done and nothing can be done to improve the ability or chances of minorities" to pass the tests, he said.
In contrast, Mr. Anrig contended, historically black colleges in particular have made almost heroic efforts to increase the passing rates of their graduates.
But Antoine Garibaldi, chairman of the education department at Xavier University in Louisiana and another reviewer of a Smith draft, said, "my reactions to it were favorable."
"A lot of my own writing on the teacher-education shortage of minority students has been very similar to Pritchy's assessment," he said.
In general, he noted, it is extremely difficult to collect good data on the impact of testing on minority candidates.
"The problem with any kind of analysis like that ... is that you really have to extrapolate," he said. "I happen to think that Pritchy's estimates are conservative becausethere are so many fears on the part of students, particularly black students, regarding the National Teachers Examination that a lot of people just don't even apply to teacher-education programs."
One Piece of the Problem
But Mr. Garibaldi and others cautioned that while competency tests contribute to the minority-teacher shortage, they may only be a small part of the problem.
"The fact of the matter is that there are lots of opportunities for young black students out there," Mr. Garibaldi said. In addition, he noted, many minority students are not aware of the need for teachers. And even if they are, the profession's relatively low status and poor working conditions have diminished its allure.
"Competency tests are currently a major reason for shortages," said Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the education and human-resources program at the rand Corporation. "But in a broader time frame, they are probably a secondary reason."
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, she noted, well over a third of black college graduates went into teaching. But those levels had declined by more than half before the first competency tests were ever implemented, she said.
"The most academically talented minority college students were opting for other careers" even before the tests were introduced, according to Ms. Darling-Hammond.
To significantly improve the future supply of minority teachers, she said, policymakers will not only have to expand financial-aid programs, but also to enhance the inducements and rewards for teaching.
Vol. 08, Issue 12