NYC Teachers Protest Exam
This past summer, thousands of New York City public school teachers, most from minority groups and many with ten to fifteen years of experience, received termination or demotion notices. The reason: a new requirement that all classroom educators must pass the NTE, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) product formerly called the National Teachers Exam.
The targeted teachers had been employed under procedures controlled by the Board of Examiners, a New York City agency that was recently abolished. Many had passed a Board of Examiners test. With Albany now taking over licensing in all jurisdictions, New York City teachers are forced to meet the state s rules, which include posting specified scores on all three parts of the NTE. Away from the world of ETS exams for a decade or more, some have now taken the test three, four and even five times without passing. Others have been forced to take expensive coaching courses to beat the test.
A large number of independent studies have concluded that the NTE is a biased exam that cannot accurately separate those likely to be competent teachers from those who would not succeed in the classroom (see Examiner, Fall 1988). According to state reports, African American and Latino candidates in New York have a failure rate of about 60% on the NTE. Three out of four white test-takers pass the exam (see Examiner, Winter 87-88).
ETS has implicitly acknowledged the widespread criticism by phasing out the NTE and replacing it with the Praxis series of licensing exams (see Examiner, Fall 1991). New York State is developing its own teacher licensing test for administration, beginning in late 1996.
Teachers Fight Back
An impressive new organization has sprung to life to challenge the state s requirements for New York City teachers. The Committee for a Fair Licensing Procedure now meets twice monthly, with attendance sometimes topping three hundred angry teachers. The group s first newsletter explains what is wrong with the NTE requirement:
It does measure the ability of some people to take a test, but fails to test the teachers on the basis of on-the-job perforance which is the real acid test for a teacher. Can the teacher manage a classroom during these difficult times of the breakdown of authority and massive budget cuts leading to larger classrooms and a great deal of chaos? Can the test measure the ability of a person to relate to the children or to care in a humane way for the difficult problems our children face? . . . Only an on-the-job evaluation can measure these important qualities and most of the teachers threatened with termination have passed these important tests.
The Committee for a Fair Licensing Procedure s campaign literature also stresses the likely negative impact of the NTE requirement on the racial composition of the city s teaching force. Today, 70% of the teachers in the N.Y.C. school system are white, but 80% of students come from other racial groups. Reliance on the NTE is likely to broaden this gap.
In letters to the state Department of Education, Board of Regents, and the schools Chancellor, as well as a demonstration outside New York City Board of Education headquarters, the campaign has called for elimination of the new testing requirement. Rather than the test, the Committee for a Fair Licensing Procedure wants all teachers with appropriate college degrees and three years of satisfactory ratings in the classroom to gain automatic certification. An alternative process based on performance, not test scores, would be developed for incoming teachers.
Leaders of the group are committed to a long-term effort to make teacher licensing in New York City more relevant and equitable. Lawyers have already been retained to bring suit against the government agencies which require biased and unnecessary exams, an action which may resemble ongoing litigation against the California Basic Educational Skills Test (see Examiner, Summer 1995). The Committee for a Fair Licensing Procedure continues to recruit new members by distributing literature at each NTE administration.
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