If you have been following the debate over Florida's test for new teachers, on which blacks and Hispanics have not scored well, you may have seen an unsually perceptive letter to the editor in yesterday's Post. Betty L. Catoe looked at some of the sample questions on teaching technique--how best to enlist student cooperation, how best to teach respect for property-- and noted that there are ethnic and class differences in the way such problems are routinely handled. The test-makers clearly sought the "white" answers. "This," she noted, "is what is meant by cultural bias."
Hers is an excellent point, one that might have called the whole Florida test into question if the pedagogical section had been the stumbling block that tripped minorities. It wasn't. As a matter of fact, Ralph Turlington, Florida education commissioner, reports that it was the easiest section to pass for all. The lowest scores for blacks are in math and reading.
The math section of the test stresses computational skills: ordinary arithmetic, including fractions and decimals, but no algebra or geometry. The reading section is of the fill-in-the-blank sort. For instance, one series of questions was based on a passaged titled "Physical Development and Learning." Applicants were to pick the best word from a group of four to fill in the blanks:
"By far the most significant (1) of physical growth with respect to (2) is the development of the central nervous (3), since it is the mechanism for learning. . . . Neurologists, pharmocologists, and biological and medical (8) are learning more about the functioning of the (9) nervous system." The possible answers: (1) greed, aspect, envoy, power; (2) executing, coding, learning, reverting; (3) system, fiber, holder, sphere; . . . (8) pretension, researchers, followers, beginners; (9) excellent, voluntary, critical, central.
If this item is at all typical (and Turlington says it is) it's reasonable to wonder how 40 percent of the black applicants and 36 percent of the Hispanics managed to fail it the first time around. (Applicants are allowed to re-take any segment of the test they fail the first time.) It's also reasonable to ask why Florida's black leadership would insist that black applicants who repeatedly fail this relatively simple test should nevertheless be certified as public school teachers.
But, then, these are the same people who have fought Florida's minimum competency test for high school graduation. The U.S. District Court in Tampa ruled Wednesday that the test is not unfair and may be used to deny diplomas to seniors who fail it. Two- thirds of the 3,000 students who failed it (after taking it as many as five times) are black.
I may be missing something here, but I don't understand why anyone would insist, in the name of civil rights, that uneducated students should be handed diplomas or that ignorant teachers should be certified to perpetuate this cycle of failure.