More than half the black and Hispanic applicants for teaching jobs in Massachusetts fail a state licensing exam, a trend that has created a major obstacle to greater diversity among public school faculty and stirred controversy over the fairness of the test.
The minority failure rate has been demonstrably higher than among whites since the test's inception nearly a decade ago, according to state statistics, which show that 52 percent of Hispanic applicants and 54 percent of black applicants fail the writing portion of the exam. By comparison, 23 percent of whites fail. Black and Hispanic teachers also lag behind white teachers in major subject tests such as English, history, and math.
The problem has become so acute that a state task force of teachers, professors, hiring directors, and state education officials convened last week to begin examining why minorities fare so much worse on the tests.
"One of the fallouts which is particularly upsetting in our experience across the colleges is fewer and fewer students of color are even going into teaching because word has gotten out that these tests are very difficult for them," said Sally Dias, a vice president at Emmanuel College in Boston who is a member of the panel. "One test should really not be a determinant of someone's career."
Stiffer federal rules about teacher quality have increased educators' worries about the results of the teaching test, which more than 16,000 Massachusetts teachers take annually. States, under a 2001 federal law, must show teacher competency under a bar set by the state. In Massachusetts, school districts now risk losing federal money if they are not making progress toward licensing all teachers.
Education school deans in the last year began expressing concerns about the minority teachers' high failure rates to state officials and asked the state to evaluate the validity of the test and consider other ways of judging prospective teachers. They and others say the minority teachers' results raise questions about whether the design of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure is culturally biased and whether the quality of education that minority teaching applicants receive is good enough.
The state's teachers have had to take a battery of tests to get their licenses since 1998, under rules set in the 1993 Education Reform Act. Before 1998, teachers qualified for licenses if they passed certain college courses and had completed student teaching.
Chris Anderson, chairman of the state Board of Education, said he is open to other ways of assessing teachers as long as standards are not lowered.
"There's no reason to have any barriers to quality teachers if we don't need them," he said. "But at the same time, we need to have accountability and assurance that there are basic abilities for any new teacher in Massachusetts."
It should not be surprising that black and Hispanic teachers don't do as well on exams as their white counterparts since we see the exact same situation amongst students. Pretending that blacks and Hispanics are as intelligent as whites will not change reality.