When Education Review published an opinion piece by Mihad Ali highlighting her frustration with the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE), it sparked a debate online both on our Twitter and comments page.
While many commentators believed that strong literacy and numeracy skills are the bedrock of teaching, others blasted the standardised nature of the test and the fact that students can progress as far as half or three-quarters through their teaching degrees only to fail the LANTITE and not enter the profession.
Concerns were also raised that diversity and reasonable adjustments to the test based on medical disabilities were not being dealt with adequately by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), such as not providing extra time to complete the test for some students.
Now, one of the architects of the test, president and vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University Professor Greg Craven, has denounced the LANTITE, telling The Daily Telegraph that rather than weeding out prospective teachers with sub-standard literacy and numeracy skills it has led to the “collapse of the teaching profession”.
Professor Craven explained how applications for teaching degrees in NSW between 2016 and 2019 dropped by 57.3 per cent and first preferences for teacher courses plummeted by 40 per cent over the same period.
While the ACU vice-chancellor said the LANTITE was initially established as an exit exam for teachers to further develop their skills, he said changing it to an entry exam would be “a tertiary massacre”.
Such has been the effect of the LANTITE and students' waning appetite for teaching degrees that Craven warned NSW is already importing teachers from other countries and the trend would continue.
After Ali’s opinion piece, several teaching students who had failed the LANTITE test once (or multiple times) contacted Education Review with their own concerns about the test.
One of them was Ashley Bruce, who suffers from epilepsy and has difficulty retaining information quickly.
Bruce's epilepsy affects the memory functioning part of her brain, meaning she takes longer to digest information.
"I was granted only 20 extra minutes [to complete the test]," she said. "How is this catering for diversity?
"Student incomes, or lack thereof especially at the time I took [the test] which was mid-placement, aren't catered for."
Another key issue for Bruce is how the test has affected students who entered a teaching degree prior to the implementation of the LANTITE, and the money spent on tutoring and the test itself.
She also highlighted discrepancies between jurisdictions relating to the mandatory status of the test and when it is administered, and the fact that it does not assess a teacher's ability to teach.
Bruce, who is an administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to the LANTITE, was also shocked by the effect the test has had on other students’ lives.
“I was mortified and brought to tears by some of the members’ stories,” she said.
“Loss of homes, marriage or de facto relationship breakdowns, severe mental health issues (depression, anxiety and PTSD), and even one student being hospitalised due to the impact the LANTITE had on them.”
Another teaching student, Sammantha Hutchinson, said students at her university who enrolled prior to the LANTITE's introduction were provided with “no support whatsoever”. She also wondered why certain “red flags” weren’t picked up by her university regarding the inevitable LANTITE test.
Hutchinson, like other teaching students who contacted Education Review, also highlighted that the LANTITE isn’t creating “classroom ready teachers, but merely people who do well in an exam”.
Shane Jefferson* also contacted Education Review with concerns about the LANTITE. For him, it’s irrelevant whether the test is conducted before or during a teaching degree. He claims there are hundreds of students who are unable to graduate because of a few “useless LANTITE tests”.
“I believe that [student] teachers should be refunded for the whole course if they are unable to teach,” he said.
“Furthermore, think about the time and commitment that thousands of pre-service teachers have expended over the last two or four years of the course.”
Like other teaching students who contacted Education Review, Jefferson criticised the importance placed on the test, arguing that “we don’t judge a student’s potential on one test score, but this is what is happening to incoming teachers across the country”.
Kyle Smith, who is writhing a thesis about language assessment, holds different concerns about the LANTITE. For the last 12 months, Smith has been learning about the LANTITE test and helping students prepare for it.
Smith’s key concern with the test is “that the Australian public has had to assume that the LANTITE is a valid, reliable and fair test,” he says.
“However, contrary to ‘standard practice’ in educational testing, neither ACER nor the Federal Department of Education have made any such argument publicly, nor have they released the documentation or data that support such an argument.”
Smith emphasises that such data and documentation exits, but that it hasn’t been released for people to make a judgement.
Smith, who has spent 18 years practising reading tests and teaching grammar, took the practice test himself, scoring 60 out of 65 in the literacy component.
Based on his and others’ experience of the test, as well as his knowledge of testing, he identified a number of factors that are likely to affect individual scores. These include background knowledge, boredom/frustration, variable quality of test items (ie some questions or items being poorly written) and the behaviour of a remote proctor (invigilator) for students completing their tests remotely.
Smith also agrees that making the LANTITE an entry exam could make the situation worse, as universities would not be able to provide support until students attend the institutions. This, he says, would further widen the equity gap.
However, according to the latest full set of data available, the pass rates for both the literacy and numeracy components of the LANTITE are quite high.
CEO of Universities Australia Catriona Jackson said: “In 2018, which is the last year for which we have full data, 90 per cent of ITE (Initial Teacher Education) students met the standard in the literacy part of the test, and the same proportion met the numeracy standard.”
She went on to say that “The LANTITE test assesses whether someone is in the top 30 per cent of the adult population for literacy and numeracy”.
While the Department of Education, which contracts ACER to conduct the test, said the LANTITE “is not intended to be a broad measure of the ability to teach,” but provides a “…nationally consistent way to demonstrate that students have met the minimum standard of personal literacy and numeracy expected of a prospective teacher.
“Strong personal and literacy and numeracy skills form an essential part of the attributes and skills needed by all teachers to be effective in the classroom."
Given Craven's comments, however, as well as falling numbers of students embarking on a teaching career in NSW, Smith's observations of the opacity of the test and influencing factors on test scores, and the students' experiences described above, many are asking whether it's time to either revamp the test or change it completely.
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