Teacher Preparation

Teacher Exam in N.Y. Raising Difficult Questions About Diversity

By Stephen Sawchuk — April 10, 2015 1 min read
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The New York Times reports that a federal judge plans to examine whether a new teacher-licensing exam in New York, the Academic Literacy Skills Test, discriminates against candidates of color.

The judge’s examination stems from nearly 20-year lawsuit in the Empire state over teacher testing; at least one earlier exam was found to be biased against minorities, and a decision on a second one is forthcoming, the newspaper reports.

The new exam, one of three put into place in recent years and used for the first time in 2013-14, is supposed to measure teachers’ grasp of the skills outlined in the Common Core State Standards—such as using textual evidence in constructing arguments. Chalkbeat New York was the first to pick up on the disparate results last year for candidates from different backgrounds on the ALST.

“In the 2013-14 school year, 48 percent of aspiring black teachers and 56 percent of aspiring Hispanic teachers passed a new, more rigorous literacy exam, compared to 75 percent of their white peers, according to the data,” reporter Geoff Decker wrote in that story.

To be clear, there is a long history of concern in the United States that teacher licensure exams disproportionately affect candidates of color. On the ETS Praxis’ exams, for instance, candidates of color have tended to score between a half and a full deviation lower. The advent of basic-competency exams for teachers in the 1980s led to a slew of lawsuits at the time and others have been filed right up to the present day.

In New York, the phenomenon is raising fears that the new exam will fuel the a disparity between the increasingly diverse makeup of the state’s K-12 student population and its overwhelmingly white, female teaching force. Advocates supporting the exam, on the other hand, counter that students need to have the best-qualified candidates regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.

One reason this situation is worthy of particular mention is because many states, like New York, are seeking to raise the standards for entry into teacher preparation. At the same time, the overall teacher labor market is shifting dramatically: Enrollments in teacher preparation have been falling in a number of places, even as states raise their standards and expectations.

Make no mistake: This is a story we’re likely to see more of in coming months.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.