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NYC Teacher Exam|Upheld in Federal Court

MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City's retooled teacher-certification exam does not discriminate against black and Latino applicants, a federal judge ruled, the latest in a class action that has dragged on for 19 years.

The Academic Literacy Skills Test is the most recent version of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, previously abbreviated as LAST - which has been the center of a lawsuit filed in 1996 by Elsa Gulino and other black or Latino individuals who applied for teaching positions.

The proceedings eventually led a federal judge to find that two different versions of LAST violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because the exams "had a disparate impact on African American and Latino test takers and did not qualify as job related."

After the ALST replaced the LAST in 2014, the applicants claimed that this exam discriminated against black and Latino test takers for the same reasons.

"The court disagrees," U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood wrote Friday, issuing her findings after a June hearing. "Unlike the LAST, the ALST qualifies as a job related exam under Title VII."

New York state adopted the new teaching standards as part of its application for federal funding through the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top educational reform initiative, the judge found.

"The ALST was derived from those standards, and thus was appropriately designed to ensure that only those applicants who possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to teach successfully may be hired to do so in New York's public schools. That conclusion relieves New York City of Title VII liability in this case," she wrote.

In finding the ALST job related, Wood looked at whether the exam was properly validated demonstrating "by professionally acceptable methods, [that the exam is] 'predictive of or significantly correlated with important elements of work behavior which comprise or are relevant to the job or jobs for which candidates are being evaluated.'"

This assessment appears in the ruling's meticulous recitation of the New York state Education Department's extensive process of developing the ALST.

Wood considered whether the ALST is scored to select the best candidates for the job, whether the content of the exam is an accurate representation of the job's content, and whether the exam was constructed properly relying on New York Teaching Standards and Common Core Standards.

Ultimately, she found that the SED complied with all of these factors in developing the ALST.

"Accordingly, the court holds that the ALST is job related," Wood wrote. "Defendants have therefore rebutted any prima facie case of discrimination made by plaintiffs. It follows that the ALST is not discriminatory under Title VII."

Wood did find that the exam's development process was flawed for relying on insufficient participation by public school teachers in the process.

Also the state Department of Education and its contractors neglected to connect job functions to the actual required skills tested by the ALST, according to the ruling.

Despite these flaws, however, the state's reliance on the required standards was "sufficient to save the ALST in this instance," Wood wrote.

In the case at hand, the New York City Board of Education was the principal defendant.

The state Department of Education had been an early defendant, but the Second Circuit dismissed it from this case last year, holding that it is not an employer of public school teachers under Title VII.

"Even though the SED is no longer a party to this suit, it was the SED, and not the BOE, which sought to defend the ALST as validly designed and implemented," Wood wrote in a footnote. "Thus, this ppinion discusses the arguments put forward by the SED in depth, despite the fact that it is not currently a party to the suit."

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