The New York state Board of Regents announced this week that they will eliminate a literacy test teachers currently have to take to become classroom certified. Because blacks and Hispanics fare worse on the test than whites, the board determined that the exam was leading to an unacceptable diversity outcome in New York’s teacher population.
The Academic Literacy Skills Test was implemented in 2013, when state officials were desperate to put more quality teachers into elementary school classrooms. Reform advocates argued that the test would help keep subpar teachers out of the school system and provide room for a higher caliber faculty.
But when only 46% of Hispanics and 41% of blacks were able to pass the test – as opposed to 64% of whites – critics said the state could not ignore the racial biases inherent in standardized exams. The test was challenged in court two years ago, but a federal judge ruled that there was no reason to believe the exam was discriminatory.
The Board of Regents insists that teachers will still have to pass a battery of examinations to ensure they are qualified, but the move has angered education advocates who see this as a dangerous form of political correctness.
“I think it’s absolutely outrageous,” said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, in an interview with the New York Post. “Our children are already barely literate. The majority of them aren’t reading at grade level as it is. To dumb down the standards for incoming teachers with the ludicrous excuse to diversify the teaching pool is completely absurd.”
Davids told the Post that, ironically, minorities would be hurt by the move
“We already have ineffective teachers in our highest-needs neighborhoods,” she said. “These are black and Latino neighborhoods. It’s in these schools where you want to put teachers who can’t pass a basic English test?”
For as much as there is to celebrate about this country in terms of how far we’ve come on civil rights, we can’t let a desire to even the racial playing field blind us to reality. If minorities can’t pass a test and whites can, we agree: That’s a problem. But you don’t address disparity like that by getting rid of the standards! You address it by figuring out ways to improve minority test scores.
It’s not that hard to understand. It’s not like this test is asking people how many hits the Barenaked Ladies had in the 90s or which grocery store carries the best quinoa. There’s nothing discriminatory or biased about requiring basic literacy from the people teaching our children how to read!