UPDATE: As reader aburstein points out below (and gives another source), the article below is four years old. So the news is dated, but the rationale and actions are still in line with the dismantling of meritocratic assessment that continues today.
Once again a standardized test—this time for certification as a New York State teacher—has been eliminated. The axed test involved mastering reading and writing abilities, and is known as the Academic Literary Skills test, one of four tests previously required to be a ceritified teacher. Now the requirement to pass that test has been ditched.
Officials give several reasons for eliminating the test, but none are really convincing, and I suspect that they’re getting rid of it because it reduces equity in the teaching profession—minority teachers don’t pass the test as often as white ones. If this is the real reason, then we have again encountered the dismantling of the meritocracy to achieve equity (representation of groups in proportions equal to what obtains in the general population). While you may say that this is “lowering standards” for becoming a New York teacher, state officials deny that; and yet the article itself implies that this is a lowering of standards.
Click on the website at ny.chalkbeat.org below to read the article:
First, the opening statement of the article implies that removing the literacy test does represent a lowering of standards (my emphasis):
State officials voted to make it easier to become a New York state teacher on Monday by knocking off one of the state’s main teacher certification requirements.
. . .The literacy test, which became mandatory in 2014, was one of several requirements the state added to overhaul teacher preparation in 2009. Regents hoped that a slate of more rigorous exams would help better prepare teachers for the real-life demands of the job and make for a more qualified teaching force.
In total, teachers have had to clear four certification hurdles, including the literacy exam. The other exams ask teachers to demonstrate their teaching skills, content knowledge, and understanding of students with particular needs.
Now “making it easier” may simply mean that people save time by not taking the test, but further information in the article suggests that’s not what they mean:
Though the intent was to create a more qualified teaching workforce, officials argued Monday the overhaul did not work out as planned — providing an unnecessary roadblock for prospective teachers. The exam faced legal challenges after a low percentage of black and Hispanic students passed the test. Only 38 percent of aspiring black teachers and 46 percent of aspiring Hispanic teachers passed the test between September 2013 and June 2016, compared to 69 percent of their white peers, according to the state education department officials.
Judge Kimba Wood (remember her?) ruled the test legal because it tested job-related skills and thus wasn’t discriminatory, but the state ditched the test anyway. The reasons are suggested by the differential passing rates given above, which would lead to lower proportions of minority teachers, as well as the words “unnecessary roadblock” above, whose meaning isn’t clear:
One gets the impression that this differential passing rate was unanticipated, and thus decisions were made post facto that the test was both “flawed” and “unnecessary”:
“The issue is not that literacy is not important, literacy is everything,” said Regent Kathleen Cashin, who chairs the board’s committee on higher education. “It’s just that if you have a flawed test, does that raise standards or does that lower standards?”
But what evidence is there that the test is “flawed”? If it’s just the differential passing rate, that’s not evidence at all. What could be going on here is that the “flaw” is racism, and that would be based on Ibram Kendi’s assertion (now widely accepted) that if there are inequities in a system (in this case, the test), then there is structural racism in the system (the test). But there isn’t independent evidence for that.
And then there’s a flat dismissal that eliminating the test involves lowering standards:
Chancellor Betty Rosa gave a particularly strong defense of the changes, arguing that some of those who have been critical of this move have “no clue” and that dropping the test does not represent a lowering of standards.
“The theme song … has been ‘Oh you’re lowering the standards,” Rosa said. “No, ladies and gentlemen.”
To me, this doesn’t sound like a “strong defense.”
If they want to eliminate the test because minorities pass it at a disproportionately low rate, thus creating inequities in the teaching corps, then they should admit that. There’s no shame involved in saying that you are getting rid of the test as a form of affirmative action or academic reparations, for one can argue that we need minority teachers as role models. But then you shouldn’t pretend that the test is “flawed” if you don’t have independent evidence for that.
And yes, it does involve lowering standards for admission, as do all affirmative action methods. But remember that “lowering standards” may not be injurious if truly qualified people are being eliminated under the present system (Harvard, after all, would be just as good if they admitted not the top 4.6% of applicants but the next best 5%).
Also, one can argue that relaxing the standards must be balanced against the potential benefit of having teachers that serve not only as role models, but themselves are given a leg up in a profession that historically has discriminated against them. All I would like here is a little honesty on the part of those who ditched the test. But honesty is in short supply in these parlous days.