A literacy test for prospective teachers.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
Good reading and writing skills are essential, and requiring would-be teachers to pass a literacy test seems like basic common-sense – a way to ensure teachers excel in this crucial arena, and can get their students to excel, too.
Reasonable as it might seem, in New York a literacy test for prospective teachers has proven surprisingly controversial.
This week the Board of Regents eliminated the requirement that prospective teachers pass a literacy test to become certified.
The reason for dropping the test: black and Hispanic teaching candidates passed it at significantly lower rates than whites, making it difficult to increase the number of black and Hispanic teachers throughout the state.
Increasing the number of black and Hispanic teachers in New York schools is a worthwhile goal. So is asking aspiring teachers to demonstrate basic literacy skills before being given classrooms of their own.
Abandoning the literacy test might help the state achieve one of these goals, but it does so at the expense of another.
A better move would be to revisit the concept of the literacy test and see whether there are ways to improve New York’s test and raise standards without weeding out minority teaching candidates.
An achievement gap between white and minority students exists at all levels of schooling, which is why we’re not especially surprised to learn that this gap persists at the graduate teaching student level.
The state and federal government should continue their efforts to eliminate the achievement gap in childhood, which should solve the problem of racially disparate outcomes on teacher literacy tests.
If the Board of Regents does decide to reinstate the literacy test requirement, it should make make sure the test teachers are asked to take is a good one – fair, clear and comprehensive.
It’s unclear whether the test dropped by the Board of Regents was any of these things.
Even proponents of teacher literacy tests, such as Charles Sahm, the director of education policy at the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, were critical of New York’s literacy test. Sahm paid $20 to take the practice exam, and told Fox News that it was poorly designed, with multiple choice questions that seemed to have more than one answer.
“I do agree that it’s not a great test,” Sahm said. “I found the reading comprehension section to be kind of infuriating. I only got 21 out of 40 right.”
This doesn’t sound like the kind of literacy test New York’s teachers need to be taking.
But that doesn’t mean a literacy test is a bad idea.
The state should revisit the concept, and develop a better test.