New York considering major changes to teacher certification exams

New York Post – by Danika Fears, Kirstan Conley and Selim Algar

State education officials plan to scrap a literacy exam given to prospective teachers and allow certification for some applicants who fail a performance-assessment test — moves that critics warned will weaken the pool of candidates.

The state Board of Regents will likely vote early next week on whether to ax the Academic Literacy Skills Test, one of four exams that teacher-wannabes have to pass for certification, officials said Monday.  

The Regents will also consider changes to one of the other three prerequisite exams for would-be educators, the Teacher Performance Assessment, or edTPA.

Under that proposal, applicants who just barely fail the edTPA could still be certified based on other factors, including teacher recommendations.

Sources said the moves will likely be approved, leading to outcry from those who believe they are important assessment tools.

“It’s alarming because we’ve now abandoned or watered down the teacher-evaluation process, and now we’re lowering the bar for entry certification as well,” said Charles Sahm, director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute.

The literacy test has been accused of skewing against minorities and being redundant — but Sahm called it an important tool in bringing in qualified candidates.

“I think it’s important that we increase the share of black and Hispanic teachers, and we certainly don’t have enough here or anywhere. But I don’t think this is the way to go,” Sahm said. “This is a literacy exam. If you’re going to be a teacher in New York state, this is a criteria you should be able to meet.”

A task force that has been reviewing teacher-certification exams since May has recommended dropping the ALST.

“Concerns about the assessment that were expressed by the Task Force and the deans included the cost, the need for the assessment in light of the other certification examinations, and the total number of exams required for teacher certification,” says a report signed by John D’Agati, the deputy commissioner of the state Education Department.

Sources said education officials also were concerned about the disparity between passing rates among white and minority candidates.

In 2013-14, only 48 percent of aspiring black teachers and 56 percent of prospective Hispanic educators passed, compared to 75 percent of white candidates, the Web site Chalkbeat reported in February.

Instead of having prospective teachers take the ALST, the department is recommending that another existing exam, the Educating All Students test, be modified so it assesses “both students’ ability to teach a diverse population and also their literacy skills.”

But charter advocate StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis blasted the move.

“It’s a terrible idea to get rid of the test that tells us whether teaching candidates meet minimum literacy levels,” she told The Post. “Students in low-income neighborhoods need teachers who soar over the standards, not ones who failed to pass a basic competency test.”

“After hearing from the Task Force, the department has reviewed the report’s recommendations and will make suggestions to the Board of Regents on possible next steps,” department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in an e-mail to The Post.

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