'IE' readers may recall that mid last year the then Minister for Education Christopher Pyne announced that the Federal Government would fund a trial literacy and numeracy test for initial teacher education students, Dr Stewart Riddle writes.
This test was one of the significant recommendations on how to improve teacher quality identified in the Report of the Teacher Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). The review undertaken in 2014 by this advisory group was the 102nd inquiry into teacher education in Australia.
The test itself is the resultant product of the deliberations on how to supposedly measure that “initial teacher education entrants will have personal literacy and numeracy skills equivalent to those of the top 30% of the adult population”. This benchmark figure is part of the ‘standards’ required to be met by universities in respect to the national accreditation process for teacher education courses in Australia.
The Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) designed the trial test which contained 130 items, including reading comprehension, technical writing skills, algebra statistics and geometry. ACER claims that the test has been designed to reflect the contexts in which aspiring teachers are likely to exercise personal literacy and numeracy; personal and community, schools and teaching and further education and training.
The first phase of the trial test was undertaken by 5000 volunteer student teachers across the country, with 92% passing in literacy and 90% in the numeracy component (or if you prefer the reporting style of some media, 1 in 10 failing the test).
Test to graduate
The second phase is the implementation of the test from 1 July 2016. The cost of sitting the test will be the responsibility of the students. Student teachers will be required to pass the test in order to graduate.
It is not yet clear how many times the test can be retaken. It is also not clear what universities will do to assist student teachers undertaking preservice courses who do not pass the test. It is clearly ludicrous to have students undertake years of study in teacher preservice courses, be they four year bachelor degrees or two year post graduate education courses, who cannot graduate because of performance on a one off test at the end of their course.
Media headlines in 2015 ran variations on the theme of ‘1 in 10 teachers can’t spell or count’ – predictable hyperbole from a hyperventilating mainstream media more interested in capitalising on moral panic than engaging in productive debate about how to ensure access to the best educational opportunities for all young Australians.
For example, The Australian reported that the tests would “weed out unfit graduates”, while the Courier Mail claimed that thousands of graduates are entering classrooms “without the proper skills to teach”.