By Paul Meekin
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence” – Robert Frost
Are literacy tests racist? Designed to weed out minorities and people in order to prevent them from becoming teachers in New York?
Probably not, but that’s a subject of discussion and a forthcoming decision by the Board of Regents in the region. The Academic Literacy Skills Test, or ALST, was designed to assess a teacher’s ability to comprehend and critically analyze writing – for example speeches by former presidents. It’s said it’s equivalent to a 12th grade literacy exam. After it was introduced, it had a 68 percent pass rate.
However, “Just 46 precent of Hispanic test takers and 41 percent of black test-takers passed…” . This is problematic because a predominantly white teacher-force wouldn’t quite set the proper example for an increasingly diverse student body.
So, why are minorities failing this test?
Well first of all, based on the practice questions I’ve seen, they’re asking interpretive questions in a multiple choice format. Meaning there could technically be more than one correct answer, and you have no opportunity to back up your claim. If you can’t use your own words to prove your literacy, what’s the point?
But that’s an inclusive issue and one that’d affect everyone taking the test. Kate Walsh, the President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, offered some insight: “There’s not a test in the country that doesn’t have disproportionate performance on the part of blacks and Latinos.” What’s weird here is that no one is offering any sort of explanation as to why minorities are failing this test at a greater rate.
More importantly, do all, and should all, teachers be required to pass a fairly obtuse ‘literacy’ test to become a teacher? If you’re teaching grammar or English? Sure. History? Math? Phys-Ed? Probably not.
I’ve been blessed with countless amazing teachers and mentors throughout my educational career – from grade school to high school to college. They encouraged me, challenged me, and occasionally pissed me off in such a way that I had to prove them wrong by doing excellent work.
They were also predominately white. I can name the teachers of color I’ve had on one hand. Professor Pope taught me how to run a camera, keep focus, and TD a live shoot during the chaos of a live TV production. Mike Fry taught me comedy writing. Professor Hanserd taught Black Worlds Studies and told me I was an excellent writer. Professor Raymond Steele taught me game development. Lifetime, that’s 5/32 or so.
I have no clue if they could pass this test. And nor did it matter. One does not need a proper education in literacy to teach me the history of blackness, how to run a camera, how to write jokes, or how to make an exciting video game.
As previously stated, representation is important. Seeing people like you, doing successful things, makes a kid believe they too are capable of being successful. There’s also an element of camaraderie. To a polish kid, a teacher with a polish last name may engender that kid to that teacher and foster a quality relationship the same goes for black kids, I’d assume. Maybe it won’t. But schools are as much about academia as they are about growth, and people, and plants, grow best in a warm, familiar, and fostering environment.
And it is here I question the notion of why some, especially liberals, are so opposed to school choice. If you want to go to a state run school by teachers who pass this test, have at it. But if wouldn’t it be wonderful if students of diverse cultural backgrounds could have the *choice* to attend a school that offered to reflect their culture directly? Or offered to teach them a bankable, workable, skill in addition to the basics and college prep?
That is liberty after all, right? Options and free markets that allow parents and kids to make the choices that best suit them?
As a kid, I had the honor and privilege and choice of choosing to go to Bristol Plymouth Regional Vocational Technical High School in Plymouth Massachusetts. If I ever win a million dollars I know where my large, tax-deductible donation is going.
I was trained in the art and science of computer…science by two wonderful teachers – two people I owe, literally, 99 percent of my professional life to. I gained an A+ and Net+ certification during high school and never had to pay a dime. ITT Tech charges $2000 for the A+ alone. My teachers’ spelling was not excellent. Nor was their handwriting. Nor would I imagine a lifetime of electronic engineering and computer networking would prepare them for a literacy composition course.
But they prepared me for a lifetime of hard work in a way a damned standardized test never could.