The quality of Australia’s trainee teachers is again under fire, with one in 10 failing the literacy and numeracy test required to teach.
The Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE) is a federal initiative and was created to ensure graduating teachers had literacy and numeracy skills similar to the top 30 per cent of the population (Year 9 level or above). Trainee teachers can sit the NAPLAN-style test at any time in their degree and must pass it before gaining registration.
According to test data obtained by The Australian, literacy and numeracy levels among trainee teachers slipped for the third year in a row, adding to calls for higher ATAR entry scores for teaching. When the test was first introduced in 2015, 95 per cent of trainee teachers passed the test; this fell to 92 per cent in 2017 and even lower this year.
Despite the slip in test scores, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said the test was fulfilling its purpose.
“Our government recognises the difference high-quality teachers make to a child’s education,” he said.
“That is why we introduced a mandatory literacy and numeracy benchmark for teaching graduates. As the latest results show, ensuring teachers meet the prerequisite standard is as important as ever.”
An AITSL report last year revealed that close to 40 per cent of recent teaching graduates scored a tertiary admission rank less than 70. Despite this, the minister will not entertain the idea of introducing minimum ATAR scores for teaching courses.
In many ways, the LANTITE is couched in a discourse that connects student achievement to teacher quality, not teaching quality. According to this discourse, student achievement will lift once universities become more discriminating in who they allow to graduate.
Many education experts, however, have called the LANTITE “irrelevant” and nothing more than a “gate-keeping” measure. In an article that appeared in The Conversation last year, Monash University’s Melissa Barnes and the University of Melbourne’s Russell Cross argue that the test proves little as trainee teachers can sit it multiple times.
They also highlight that the “onslaught” of books, tutorials and courses available to pass the course ensures virtually everyone can pass the course without necessarily learning much.
Most importantly, Barnes and Cross make the pertinent argument that the LANTITE is preoccupied with keeping people out rather than encouraging the best to enter the profession. The fact that the test is set at a Year 9 level seems to support this proposition.
If the focus was on attracting the best and not getting rid of the worse, the bar would probably be set higher. But, as Barnes and Russel note, to attract the best, teaching would have to include more "opportunities for development, career advancement, and higher wages". What a great idea that would be.
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