NY Drops Literacy Skills Test for Teacher Certification

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New York's Board of Regents voted on Monday to eliminate a literacy skills exam as a requirement for teacher certification. The test was one of the three standardized exams required for aspiring teachers, in addition to a complex performance assessment.  

The change was recommended by a task force that studied the issue, after it found that the literacy skills test was a barrier to certification for many applicants. The overall pass rate of the test over a three year period was 61 percent, with black, Latino and Asian test takers faring worse than white students. 

The task force also called the literacy skills test expensive and duplicative.

"Candidates for certification will still be required to demonstrate their teaching skills and knowledge before entering the classroom," said Betty Rosa, chancellor of the Board of Regents, in a statement. "At the same time, we are eliminating costly and unnecessary testing requirements that create unfair obstacles to certification for many applicants.”

The Regents said that literacy skills would be tested in another exam already in the portfolio of assessments that students must pass to earn their certification.

But critics pounced on the change and accused the state of lowering standards for aspiring teachers.

"With research showing that teachers with stronger academic skills achieve better student outcomes, it is deeply disappointing that the Regents and State Education Department are lowering the bar for teacher literacy skills and astonishing that there has been virtually no public discussion of the potential impact on student learning," said Ian Rosenblum, who leads an advocacy group called The Education Trust New York, in a statement.

But Niki Fayne, interim provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Lehman College, applauded the change. She was previously the dean of Lehman's School of Education before assuming her new role in August. 

"I want to go on record and say I believe in raising the bar," said Fayne. "I think only the most dedicated and capable individuals should become teachers. But you have to make sure that the bar is the right bar, and if you use assessments you have to really make sure that those assessments are valid."

Likewise, Charles Sahm, director of education policy at The Manhattan Institute, questioned whether the test, developed by Pearson at the behest of New York, was the best measure of literacy skills. Sahm described himself as someone who believed in accountability for teachers and students, and for having high expectations for teacher certification.

But he took the literacy skills test himself. 

"You can take it for $20 online," said Sahm. "And I have to say, I only got 21 out of 40 questions right on the reading comprehension."

Sahm said the Regents should study, and potentially adopt, what other states were doing to test the literacy skills of teacher candidates.