"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Latest Racist/Classist StandardizedTest from ETS

A hundred years ago the first large scale IQ tests were devised by American eugenicists who saw testing as a surefire "scientific" way to sort, segregate, and mistreat "defectives," so that they would not mix and, therefore, stain the purity of the white middle class "germ plasm." 

The Alpha and Beta IQ tests were first administered to 1.75 million American military recruits at the outbreak of World War I.  The underprivileged who scored poorly were sent off to be gassed in the trenches of France. Those middle class young men who knew that tennis courts had nets and what bowling balls were supposed to look like aced the test and were given desk jobs in Washington or were sent off to officer training school. 

A few years after WWI another eugenicist did some minor modifications to the Army tests, and the result was the first college entrance exam known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.  Machine scoring came a few years later, and nothing has changed since.

Except that a universe of new standardized tests have been devised since those early days to do what the original racist tests did so effectively: weed out the underprivileged, the brown, the immigrant, the black.  Just as back then, the test results are directly correlated to family wealth and income, thus assuring that white and/or middle class privilege and scientific racism/classism will not be challenged as the rule of the Land.

So as Arne Duncan spews about the need for more black and brown teachers, he and his henchmen work overtime to inspire the development of new tests to make sure that black, brown, and immigrant groups remain cut out of teaching careers by tests designed to do just that.  Story from New York Times:


Students are not the only ones struggling to pass new standardized tests being rolled out around the country. So are those who want to be teachers.
Concerned that education schools were turning out too many middling graduates, states have been introducing more difficult teacher licensing exams. Perhaps not surprisingly, passing rates have fallen. But minority candidates have been doing especially poorly, jeopardizing a long-held goal of diversifying the teaching force so it more closely resembles the makeup of the country’s student body.
“This is very serious,” said David M. Steiner, dean of the School of Education at Hunter College and a former New York State education commissioner. “It reflects, of course, the tragic performance gap we see in just about every academic or aptitude test.”
On a common licensing exam called Praxis Core, a new test given in 31 states or jurisdictions that was created to be more rigorous than its predecessor, 55 percent of white candidates taking the test since October 2013 passed the math portion on their first try, according to the preliminary data from the Educational Testing Service, which designed the exam. The passing rate for first-time African- American test takers was 21.5 percent, and for Hispanic test takers, 35 percent. A similar gap was seen on the reading and writing portions.
In New York, which now has four separate licensing tests that candidates must pass, an analysis last year of the most difficult exam found that during a six-month period, only 41 percent of black and 46 percent of Hispanic candidates passed the test their first time, compared with 64 percent of their white counterparts.

A federal judge is now weighing whether the test is discriminatory. Because of complaints from education schools that students have not had enough time to adjust, as well as concern about the impact on minorities, at least two states — New York and Illinois — have already postponed or loosened some of their new requirements.
Israel Ramos, who graduated from the education school at Lehman College in the Bronx, failed New York’s toughest exam three times, once, he said, by just a few points. While working as a substitute, Mr. Ramos said, he was asked if he would be interested in staying on for at least six permanent teaching positions.
“And on all those occasions, I had to turn them down because I lacked certification,” he said.
On the fourth try, he passed the test, and he is interviewing for several teaching positions.
Racial disparities have been seen on teacher licensing exams for years. They have become more pressing as states add tests or make them harder to pass, part of a national effort to weed out the least able candidates, who often wind up teaching the poorest students.
“Teachers who are not themselves well educated are not going to go on to educate their future students to the levels that we need,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.
But while the number of minority teachers has doubled since the late 1980s, according to an analysis of federal data by Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, the teaching force remains almost monochromatic: The federal Education Department has said that more than 80 percent of public school teachers are white.
For the first time, minorities accounted for more than 50 percent of the nation’s public school student population this academic year, according to government estimates. Though evidence is still sparse, some studies suggest that having a teacher of the same race may be beneficial for students.
Thomas S. Dee, a professor of education at Stanford who has studied the issue, said such advantages might come because students perceived teachers who looked like themselves, or who came from their own communities, as role models. There may also be unintentional racial bias at play in how teachers perceive students who are different from themselves, Dr. Dee said.
Linda Darling-Hammond, who is also a professor of education at Stanford,

said that in devising new tests, “we need to be clear about what skills are necessary, rather than just trying to eliminate people from the pool.” Dr. Darling-Hammond helped design a new performance-based test for teachers, called the edTPA, which requires a portfolio of work including a video of the candidate in front of a classroom, but she is skeptical of the increase in testing over all.
“We’re kind of in a testing era in the United States,” she said. “If you have a problem, throw a test at it.”
The edTPA is one of the tests that teaching candidates in New York must now pass. Another one, the Academic Literacy Skills Test, or ALST, is being scrutinized in court. That test was designed to evaluate reading and evidence-based writing, to show the “teacher is capable of proficient, close, and critical reading that reflects wide, deep and thoughtful engagement with a range of high-quality, complex informational and literary texts,” preparation materials say. It was developed to ensure teachers can master the new Common Core standards for English; sample questions provided on a testing website include passages about energy policy and Gertrude Stein’s life in Paris.
Licensing tests have been challenged in the last couple of decades in several states, with varying degrees of success. In the New York case, Judge Kimba M. Wood of Federal District Court in Manhattan has already ruled that two exams previously used in the state were discriminatory. The central question in these cases is whether the skills measured by the test are so crucial to the job of being a teacher that they outweigh the disparate impact on minority candidates.
But many public education officials view rigorous entrance requirements as crucial to improving student performance and ensuring a qualified teaching force in the face of uneven preparation programs. In a court document, an expert defending the ALST on behalf of the state is quoted as saying, “The purpose of a teacher licensure test is to protect the public from incompetent teachers.”
Leslie T. Fenwick, the dean of the Howard University School of Education,

says that while she supports licensure assessments, she makes a case in her coming book, “Jim Crow’s Pink Slip,” that they have a sinister history. She says that certification exams, particularly in the Southeast, were part of a tool kit used to force black teachers out of the profession after the Brown v. Board of Education decision mandated desegregated schools.
Versions of licensing tests have, in fact, been around for better than a century. The education historian Diane Ravitch said New York City began teacher
examinations in the early 20th century. As part of those tests, she said, an oral exam was included, in part, to weed out speakers with accents.
Students at the education school Mr. Ramos attended, at Lehman College, have not fared well on the new tests.
Harriet R. Fayne, the dean of Lehman’s School of Education, noted that English is not the first language of many Lehman students, who often come from less rigorous high schools with a high poverty rate — the kinds of schools that are difficult to staff, and where Lehman-educated teachers themselves often end up.
Dr. Fayne said that though the school was providing increased coaching and advising, “students are still asking themselves the question — and I think particularly students from underrepresented groups in the teaching profession — is this a path that I can take that’s likely to lead to success?”
“My worst fear,” she added, “is that these people will just disappear on us.”  
A version of this article appears in print on June 18, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Tough Tests for Teachers, With Question of Bias .

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