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Editorial: Restore the literacy test

The Board of Regents made a bad decision in eliminating a requirement that teacher candidates in New York pass a literacy test to become certified. The move followed controversy after black and Hispanic candidates passed the test at significantly lower rates than white candidates.

The Regents also progressed on a proposal that would allow some teacher candidates who failed a test designed to evaluate practical skills “to be certified based on their grades and professors’ recommendations,” as reported in the New York Times.

Under Chancellor Betty A. Rosa, the Regents are moving away from a set of challenging licensing exams: the Academic Literacy Skills Test, or ALST, designed to assess reading and analytical writing skills; and the edTPA, requiring candidates to submit a portfolio of work, such as unedited videos of candidates interacting with students.

A federal judge ruled in 2015 that the ALST was not biased, based on the fact that it measured skills necessary for teaching. Deans of education schools disagreed, stating that the exam was worsening a shortage of minority teachers.

Some critics believe the ALST is duplicative. Teachers in the certification pipeline already possess bachelor’s or master’s degrees while completing other assessments, all of which require literacy. Moreover, the critics contend, the assessment does not measure what it should and there is a disparate impact on teacher candidates of color.

But it is just as important to have assessments that measure critical points, such as a high literacy level, as it is to have a diverse teaching workforce. Rather than eliminate the assessment, the Board of Regents should ensure that teaching preparation programs are providing candidates with support.

New York State’s Plan to Ensure Equitable Access to the Most Effective Educators indicates low-income students and students of color are more likely than their peers to be placed with a teacher who has been rated ineffective on the state-provided growth rating. So why increase the odds that the state will produce teachers with weaknesses that hurt the most vulnerable students?

What helps solve the problem is ensuring teacher preparation programs are providing the necessary supports and skills to candidates who enroll. It is not about how hard teacher candidates work, it is about whether they have the skills for this enormously important job of teaching children. The Regents should change their decision to eliminate requirements that would help to ensure that children, especially those most vulnerable, have the strongest teachers.

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