March 15, 2017
NYC cuts teacher literacy test considered overly burdensome
by Kait Howard
The recent decision by New York City’s Board of Regents to eliminate a literacy test required for teacher certification is provoking mixed reactions from education policy leaders.
WNYC’s Yasmeen Kahn reports that the Academic Literacy Skills Test, or ALST, “one of three standardized exams required for aspiring teachers, in addition to a complex performance assessment,” was cut after a task force concluded that the test, which had been developed by Pearson, was an “expensive and duplicative… barrier to certification for many applicants.”
According to the New York Times’ Kate Taylor, the test had come to be seen as “controversial because black and Hispanic candidates passed it at significantly lower rates than white candidates.” In 2015, a federal judge had ruled that the test wasn’t discriminatory because it evaluated skills necessary for teachers, but Betty Rosa, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said the board had concluded that the ALST was “costly and unnecessary.”
The move to cut the ALST is the latest alteration to what seems like an ever-shifting set of requirements for prospective teachers in New York. As Kahn has previously reported, new tests introduced in 2014 required applicants to undergo significantly more rigorous, and more expensive, testing (total testing fees went from around $300 to around $600 per teacher, which includes $131 for the ALST, according to information on CUNY’s webpage for Teacher Education Programs).
Education experts interviewed by Kahn and Taylor offered differing views on the change. Michael Middleton, dean of Hunter College’s School of Education agreed that the test was onerous and expensive, but Ian Rosenblum at the advocacy group The Education Trust argued that eliminating it only “lower[ed] the bar for teacher literacy skills.”
Meanwhile, Charles Sahm, director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute, admitted to Kahn that he’d tried taking the test and had gotten only “21 out of 40 questions right on the reading comprehension” section, raising the eternal question about how well standardized tests can measure real analytical and comprehension abilities — as opposed to test-taking abilities.
No reporting has been done on the specifics of how ALST was designed, or what financial help and other resources were or weren’t available for applicants who found the test prep and fee burdensome.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.