Imagine you are at least halfway through your degree (93 per cent for me) and your university decides to spring on you that you now have to complete another hurdle before you are allowed to graduate. Not work. Graduate. Well that is exactly what universities, in collaboration with the government, have done to thousands of student teachers across the country.
That ridiculous thinking consists of letting us enter our teaching degrees and then throwing us a large curveball. That large curveball is two tests that involve money and added stress. That large curveball does not take into consideration that we got accepted into these degrees in the first place. That large curveball essentially looks to test what we were taught at school, which has no relevance to how we are as teachers. Does this truly make sense?
In my education course, the emphasis was to focus on the individual learner in the classroom. The emphasis was on how they learn better. Are they a visual learner, a kinaesthetic learner, an auditory learner, etc? Yet, here they are giving us standardised tests. Standardised testing and personalised learning are the antithesis of each other. Hypocritical much?
Shouldn’t the focus be on the actual education system? It should not be on some random, useless tests that, according to my messages with Simon Birmingham, measure my personal numeracy and literacy skills.
In an email from the Victorian Department of Education and Training in February of 2018, I was told I had to sit and pass the LANTITE prior to graduation. Sounds easy enough to pass, right? Pass as in 50 per cent. The halfway mark. The mid-point. In the next paragraph I was told that my personal numeracy and literacy has to be in the top 30 per cent of the population. So, which one is it? Pass or top 30 per cent of adults? As our scores are scaled, how do we know whether our own personal numeracy and literacy is up to standard or not? By scaling our results, doesn’t that then indirectly set us up to continually fail? Since there are no scores on the document of results, how do we know our true results? Therefore, there is no concrete evidence to ascertain whether each of us “failed” or not. Also, I must ask: Since when do standardised tests equate to the implementation of knowledge? At best, a standardised test is synonymous with rote learning. In our education degrees, we were taught to focus on personalised learning, which is the antithesis of rote. So, which one should we, the educators, be focusing on?
In April 2018 I sent Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training, a Facebook message about my dilemma. He replied: “It is important to note that the test examines an initial teacher education student’s personal literacy and numeracy skills, not their ability to teach these skills to school students.” Huh? OK. Let me get this straight. These tests should measure our personal numeracy and literacy skills, not what we can teach in the classroom. Am I missing something? If they don’t measure anything of value in the classroom, which they do not, why are we wasting approximately $93 for each test? We are all in education programs to work as educators, so if these tests do not measure our ability to teach, what is the point of them? OK, someone help me. I think I am really missing something here. Education degree – educator. Test = how good our teachers taught us. Again, what is the point of testing us on material that does not measure our ability to deduce the way our students learn best and thus plan accordingly? As one student wrote, these tests do not measure our ability to teach students concepts like nouns and verbs. Despite my own personal numeracy not being great – according to these tests – I successfully managed to teach students various multiplication strategies.
On a Facebook page dedicated to the LANTITE, many student teachers are at a loss as to what to do next since many (myself included) will have wasted years of effort and money for a degree they will not receive. One student teacher was kicked out by her university for not meeting whatever requirement needed, despite having only one subject left. Many students felt confused after they completed their third attempt (which used to be the maximum, but now it has changed to five). Many students cannot continue with their placements because they have not “succeeded”. One student wrote: “Ours tacked the LANTITE onto our third year prac from this year. It has become an assessment piece, you don’t get your grade for the whole subject until you pass all assessable components. Therefore, you also can’t proceed to the 4th/5th prac as the others are pre-requisite and of course we [can] not graduate.”
Again, what a complete waste of time. One student commented their efforts were now “useless”. If they are now deemed useless, can we get HECS refunds please as we did not graduate and are not able to work? I was of the opinion that the government wanted a better education system. An article in The Australian from 2016 notes that the LANTITE was the brainchild of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG), which was founded in 2014. According to website education.gov.au, TEMAG issued a 2015 report that highlighted the need for a difficult selection process for education courses. I am assuming the LANTITE falls into this category. Sadly, what TEMAG fails to comprehend is that teaching is more than a test. TEMAG and thus the government is equating the standard of who I am as an educator with whether or not I can meet an apparent standard on a test, thus encapsulating the entire teaching profession to marks on a piece of paper.
In a 2015 paper, University of Southern Queensland Senior Lecturer Stewart Riddlle noted that the demonstration of basic grammar skills on a test and the ability to teach literacy within the classroom do not have any relationship with each other. If, as Simon Birmingham states, it is about personal literacy and numeracy, how in the world does that relate to being inside a classroom? Riddle (2015) states that “reducing the complex work of teaching to performance on a test… only works for those wanting a fast headline and political advances”. Boy, is he right!
A 2018 article by Melissa Barnes, a Monash University lecturer in Education, and Russell Cross, a Melbourne University Associate Professor in Education, states that there is no evidence to suggest a correlation between the tests and excellent teachers. They also note that, as a policy initiative, the LANTITE suggests that the selection of students into educational programs is the first step to ensure a higher teacher quality. In that case, why were we all accepted into the programs by universities? Shouldn’t the LANTITE, if there is substantial proof that it creates better teachers (so far there is not), be administered to incoming teaching students, not those of us who have spent years working towards being able to teach only to be told that there is another hurdle? This hurdle essentially means that many universities around the country are holding many of our deserved degrees hostage. To be fairly blunt, ensuring a higher quality of teachers will not come from a test or two. Teaching is apparently a highly valuable profession and yet many are overworked and unbelievably underpaid. How about start there?
What I do not understand is how meeting some benchmark on two standardised tests automatically proves that a person is qualified to teach. Meeting marks on tests does not take into consideration any of the 37 professional teaching standards of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL).
The 7 Main Standards, which are further categorised into a total of 37, are as follows: 1. Know students and how they learn, 2. Know the content and how to teach it, 3. Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning, 4. create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments, 5. Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning, 6. Engage in professional learning and finally, 7. Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community. How are any of these standards depicted in the standardised tests, which apparently prove an individual is ready to teach?
A quote that is attributed to Albert Einstein is “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is.” Along with this quote is the cartoon image of a monkey, a penguin, an elephant, a fish, a seal and a dog all standing in a line. In front of them is a teacher sitting at a desk telling them to take the same test, in this case, climbing the tree behind them. This exquisite image is, in a nutshell, the education system in this country. Standardised testing works apparently, above all else, despite the fact that in our degrees we are told to cater to the individual learner in the classroom. Again, which one is it? Standardised testing or personalised learning? The government can’t have both. Having your cake and eating it too just does not work. Trust me, I have tried. The double standards here actually prove one thing: that the government and the universities are absolutely clueless in that they have no idea what they are doing. As far as I am concerned, this is purely a money-making exercise by the government. It never was about producing better teachers. It is a facade.
Mihad Ali is a Master of Teaching student who lives in Victoria. She is currently a teacher’s aide at an aftercare school program. She hopes to graduate soon and fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher.Do you have an idea for a story?
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