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Judge Finds N.Y. Certification Exam Discriminatory

A federal judge has ruled that the new version of a teacher-certification test used by New York state was not properly validated and had a racially disparate impact on black and Latino test-takers in the New York City school system.

The June 5 decision in the nearly 20-year-old case involves the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, a version of which teachers in New York state were required to pass to gain certification until 2012. (My colleague Stephen Sawchuk also reports on the decision at his Teacher Beat blog.) 

U.S. District Judge Kimba R. Wood of New York City had ruled in 2012 that an earlier version of the test, LAST-1, administered from 1993 to 2004, had a discriminatory impact on black and Latino test-takers. The new decision involves a revised test, LAST-2, and its use from 2004 through 2012.

"The court holds that the [New York City school district] unfairly discriminated against African-American and Latino applicants by requiring them to pass the LAST-2," Wood said in the new opinion in Gulino v. Board of Education of the City School District of New York City.

Wood accepted the findings of a neutral expert that the pass rates for black and Latino test-takers were between 54 percent and 75 percent of the pass rate of white test-takers. (The opinion did not provide the actual pass rates.)

The school system could rebut the plaintiffs' showing that the test is discriminatory on its face by establishing that the test is sufficiently job-related, the judge said. But as with the LAST-1 test, the New York City system and the producer of the test, which is National Evaluation Systems (now part of Pearson Education Inc.), failed to meet the relevant legal test in the 2nd Circuit for validating a job-related test.

"In reaching that conclusion, the court does not suggest that it would be unhelpful or unwise for the [New York City system] to test applicants' knowledge of the liberal arts and sciences with a properly validated exam," Wood said. "It may be the case that all teachers, whether they instruct kindergartners or high school seniors, must understand certain areas of the liberal arts and sciences (separate and apart from the particular subject matter they teach) in order to be competent in the classroom."

"But," she continued, "test designers must establish [that fact] through adequate validation procedures."

The LAST-2, like its predecessor, was thus indefensible under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she said. 

Wood said that to properly validate its test, NES must start by identifying the necessary job tasks for a public school teacher.

"The importance of identifying these job tasks is amplified here because every teacher in New York must be licensed, whether she teaches kindergarten, or advanced chemistry," the judge said. "NES therefore needs to determine exactly what job tasks are performed, and accordingly, what [knowledge, skills, and abilities] are required, to teach kindergarten through 12th grade proficiently. This is likely a daunting task given how different the daily experience of a kindergarten teacher is from that of an advanced chemistry teacher."

Wood gave the parties until June 29 to weigh in on "what steps need to be taken in accordance with this opinion."

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