Saturday, August 8, 2015

NYT: Judge Rules New York Teacher Exam Did Not Discriminate Against Minorities

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... 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...NY Times
This is about a recent exam but the other cases are still in play. This earlier decisions by Kimba Wood affects a case that goes back 15 years. Ed Notes was a strong supporter of the teachers who were suing. Sometimes outcomes count. If a much higher proportion of certain ethnic groups fail an exam what do we do about it? In the case of the DOE they fired thousands of people who had struggled to pass. Look at the fireman exam which was thrown out due to the overwhelming white fire department as an example.

Why do some fail? The lack of a high level of literacy often due to poor neighborhood schools or language issues including certain dialects is the reason I would use. I heard it every day from some great teachers I worked with - a certain lack of facility with the language that is often needed to extract the fine tuning on exam questions.

When this issue hit the UFT in the late 90s, Marc Pessin, a well-known, controversial and often divisive figure since the 70s who ran for UFT President a few times with different caucuses he formed, formed yet another caucus, the Progressive Action Caucus (PAC), to focus on this issue and ran for President of the UFT in the 1999 election. With New Action having emerged from a merger of TAC and New Directions (the first caucus Pessin had led before they tossed him out in the late 80s) in 1995, PAC was considered a divisive threat to New Action's ability to win seats on the Exec Bd.

I agreed with the idea of forming a group to focus on the issue of so many people of color getting chopped from the system and supported their actions at the DA but did not think their running in the elections with their own slate helped their cause (they only got 2% of the vote.) I had teachers in my school affected by the same situation. One teacher failed 8 times and lost her job, but my principal loved her work and made her  a para mentoring the teacher who replaced her. The former teacher gave up trying because her nerves were frayed by the process. Then 2 years later someone convinced her to go in and wing it - and she passed. So for bad test takers, emotions can screw you up.

Here is the Times article (thanks to Jeff Kaufman for sending it along).


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.

The exam, the Academic Literacy Skills Test, often called the ALST, was first given in the 2013-14 school year, and is meant to assess a potential teacher’s reading and evidence-based writing skills, and ability to master the Common Core standards for English.
In New York, the exam is one of four tests new teachers must take to become certified.
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.”

In a statement, Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the State Education Department, said: “Judge Wood’s decision reflects the efforts made by the department to demonstrate the validity of the ALST. Our students need and deserve the best qualified teachers possible, and the ALST helps make sure they get those teachers.”

Even so, following complaints from schools of education, the state granted teacher candidates a reprieve, saying that until June 30, 2016, they could get their licenses without passing the exam if they could demonstrate literacy skills through course work.

Joshua Sohn, a lawyer representing teachers who failed the certification exams, was not available for comment on Friday afternoon.
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.”
Sandi Jacobs, vice president at the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates stringent standards for teachers, said one notable thing about Friday’s decision was that the literacy skills test is considered to be more rigorous than the earlier tests that were thrown out.
“The state was taking a step forward, and the judge said that’s O.K.,” Ms. Jacobs said. “And that’s probably good news all the way around.”


3 comments:

  1. Are these exams public or are they hidden like most Pearson tests?

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  2. Standardized testing does not account for the emotional components of masterful teaching. Throw the tests out with the bath water.

    Abigail Shure

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  3. Close your eyes and ears and do some silent lurking in the teachers' room. It sounds like kids in a high school classroom a few decades ago. A lot of the APs are no better. Some days I cringe when the principal opens her mouth. Few kids come from homes speaking standard American English and little mass media is expressed in high quality language either. The kids need the modeling, experience, flexibility, repetition, and nuance to be college ready, which they are not! We have some of the sweetest, most caring ed interns around, but many lack a command of nuanced college level English. (And all too many do not have core knowledge in their licensed subject, either.)
    The schools are filling up with people who possess the thickest accents around, which kids complain about all the time. Some just give up trying to understand what goes on in the room each day. This has always been a problem at the local colleges. Now it is down to k12.
    Our newest teaching staff even veers over in to a-literacy. The admin deems them "highly qualified" as long as they are half a phone screen ahead of the kids and their purchase price is cheaper than an experienced instructor.

    ReplyDelete

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