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New York’s newest literacy test for aspiring teachers gets judge’s OK

A new exam testing the reading and writing skills of aspiring teachers in New York State does not discriminate against black and Hispanic candidates, a judge ruled Friday.

The ruling allows the State Education Department to continue administering the exam, one of four new tests the state developed in recent years meant to make the teaching profession more selective. The exam, called the Academic Literacy Skills Test, came under scrutiny for its relatively low pass rates, especially among black and Hispanic teacher candidates.

State data obtained by Chalkbeat earlier this year showed that 48 percent of aspiring black teachers and 56 percent of aspiring Hispanic teachers passed the exam in 2014, compared to 75 percent of their white peers. Those disparities, which the state education department have declined to confirm, follow a string of legal challenges to teacher licensing tests across the country, including in New York, where two literacy exams dating back to the early 1990s have in recent years both been ruled discriminatory.

The judge in those cases, Kimba Wood of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, began scrutinizing New York’s new exam earlier this year. On Friday, she said the test measured job-related skills, and was therefore not discriminatory.

The ALST could still face further legal challenges. A department spokesman said the state was confident the judge’s decision would stand.

“Our students need and deserve the best qualified teachers possible, and the ALST helps make sure they get those teachers,” the spokesman, Dennis Tompkins, said in a statement.

Though candidates are now required to take the new exam, they won’t have pass it to earn their teaching license until after June 30, 2016. Those who fail the ALST can still be certified if their dean signs a form attesting that the candidate has comparable literacy skills.