Judge Rules Latest Pearson/NYSED Test Does Not Discriminate -- So Far

On August 7, 2015 Kimba M. Wood of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the ALST, the latest rendition of the Pearson/New York State Education Department literacy test for teacher certification candidates, does not discriminate against minority group members. The Academic Literacy Skills Test or ALST is designed to measure reading and writing skills. Early Pearson/NYSED teacher certification exams had already been ruled discriminatory by Wood because of lower passing rates by minority candidates and inadequate evidence of the validity of the exams.

Minority candidates still have lower passing rates on this exam, but Wood found Pearson and the State Education Department had demonstrated that the "content of the ALST is representative of the content of a New York State public-school teacher's job." Judge Wood did not however say it was a good test, only that it met the legal guidelines for being job related and not being discriminatory. Party her ruling rested on evidence that "Pearson testing experts" had aligned the test with the "New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy." She did not rule on the validity of Common Core. Pearson also circulated sample exam questions for comments by ethnically diverse groups of working teachers and teacher educators.

Judge Wood did add a cautionary note. The new test was rushed through so quickly that while the test is aligned with state standards, it has not yet been fully established that the skills being measured are actually required to be a good teacher. According to Wood, "Skills like 'reading" and "writing' are overly broad, and do not meaningfully describe the skills being tested by the ALST." Performance Indicators entered as evidence to support the validity of the ALST were hypothetical and only acceptable because they were linked to Common Core Standards. We will not know if they are measured by test questions or identify candidates who will become good teachers for a number of years until people who pass the ALST are evaluated in their own classrooms. Wood also questioned whether teachers surveyed about the test were fully representative of all groups.

Opponents of the test continue to express their disagreement with the decision. According to Alfred Posamentier, former Dean of the Mercy College School of Education, the ALST does not effectively measure who will be a good teacher, only "how eloquent a person is in the English language." Ironically the New York State Education Department may agree with Posamentier. Candidates who fail the ALST are currently allowed a back door to certification if their School of Education attests that "the candidate has demonstrated comparable literacy skills consistent with what would be assessed by the ALST through course completion and that the candidate received a 3.0 grade point average or higher in such coursework." It does not appear that SED's own reservations about the legitimacy of the ALST factored into the judge's decision.

Pearson probably should hold off on excessive celebrating over the court decision as its business outlook, especially in the United States, does not look too rosy. In July, the company reported declining first-half profits as demand for Pearson textbooks went down and fewer students enrolled in college in its major North American market. CEO John Fallon passed off lower profits as part of the companies shift to digital operations and focus on emerging markets in the Third World, however the shift has now been going on for more than three years. Pearson struggled the last two years with job cuts and it spending almost $50 million this year alone to expand online products. Posts on the website TheLayoff.com by current and former Pearson employees and their family members report a new wave of layoffs in the United States and the down-sizing of Pearson's operations in this country.