The New York City Board of Education will end appeals in Gulino v. Board of Education, a long-standing case brought against the district and the New York State Education Department by four teachers of color in 1996 on the grounds a test required for obtaining a permanent teaching certificate disparately impacted African American and Latino teachers.
The state-mandated exam, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, was required for all public school teachers in the city from 1993 to 2014. White test-takers passed the test at an average rate of 93%, compared to just 53% of Black applicants and 50% of Latino applicants, according to the original complaint.
Teachers who failed were still allowed in the classroom, but the BOE paid them reduced salaries and denied them benefits, plaintiffs said. Now, the agreement filed on March 14 requires the BOE to stop appealing judgments awarding approximately $660 million in damages to former Black and Latino teachers, according to Josh Sohn, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
In a 2012 decision, a federal court ruled the New York City Department of Education failed to establish that the LAST test was related to the job of teaching.
As a result, the court found, the department was also liable for requiring teachers to pass the exam to receive a teaching license and for making employment decisions based on the exam.
Estimates of the number of public school teachers impacted by the exam — through demotion, termination, and salary and other benefit losses — range from 8,000 to 15,000, according to the plaintiffs' website.
In the decade since the decision, the New York City BOE had filed a string of appeals.
"Now, however, we can address the merits of each class member’s individual entitlement to damages; and can get class members paid the damages to which they are entitled," said Sohn.
Through the court order ending the appeals, he added, New York abandoned any future rights of appeal in connection with hundreds of judgments that it had previously appealed.
"I wonder if the decision to not engage in further appeals aligns with new City leadership where Mayor, DOE Chancellor, and Corporation Counsel (chief lawyer for the city) are all African-American," said David Bloomfield, a professor of educational leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College in New York, in an email.
New York City Public Schools did not respond to K-12 Dive's request for comment in time for publication.
Teachers unions have long argued that required licensure tests are roadblocks for prospective teachers of color to enter the classroom.
According to a 2011 study conducted by the Educational Testing Service, which administers the Praxis Exam commonly used by states for teacher certification, first-time White test-takers were almost twice as likely than Black test-takers to pass Praxis I reading, writing and math tests.
"The score gaps in all educational assessments seem acute and Praxis is no exception," authors of the study wrote. "Given the racial/ethnic imbalance in representation in the teaching profession, the challenge is especially troubling for teacher licensure tests."
However, alternate forms of assessment have also faced pushback. In Texas, for example, the local union is questioning the new edTPA exam, which requires prospective teachers to submit a portfolio including lesson plans, teaching videos and reflection essays. Ovidia Molina, president of Texas State Teachers Association, told a local news outlet it will "create more burdens" for prospective teachers.
The order that requires the New York BOE to stop appealing comes as many states are scaling back licensing requirements to enter the teaching profession in response to teacher shortages exacerbated by COVID-19.
That move, however, has also been met with controversy, with some saying their removal is short-sighted and could harm the profession in the long-run.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, Ovidia Molina was misidentified due to a spelling error.