A recent media report noted student teachers are facing delays in sitting a literacy and numeracy test they need to pass to graduate, due to the pandemic.
The report noted a group of student teachers have petitioned education minister Dan Tehan to scrap the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education Students (LANTITE) this year, and indefinitely.
The group puts forward a number of reasons for getting rid of the test all teachers must pass before graduating:
the test is discriminatory
it tests only a small subset of the skills teachers need
making LANTITE a requirement for graduation stops the university awarding the degree in which the student is enrolled, even in cases where all university courses have been passed (and more than A$40,000 in HECS-HELP debt accumulated).
So, what is the LANTITE and should it be scrapped?
Why the test was introduced
The LANTITE is a computer based test student teachers must pass before graduating. It consists of two sections – literacy and numeracy – with two hours given for each.
The test was introduced in 2016 as part of a series of reforms sparked by a 2014 report by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group. The report made recommendations for educating “classroom ready teachers” and noted lifting teacher standards would equally lift those of students.
One of the 38 recommendations was that:
Higher education providers use the national literacy and numeracy test to demonstrate that all preservice teachers are within the top 30% of the population in personal literacy and numeracy.
The need for the test has been widely discussed in education circles. For instance, education experts have put forward the test is unnecessary because Australia’s teachers have among the highest literacy levels in the OECD.
Others have drawn attention to the limitations of what the test measures. Functional literacy and numeracy are, of course, crucial skills for teachers. But there are a wide range of skills that make a good teacher and they can’t all be measured by a multiple-choice test.
Results of the test haven’t been released publicly since 2018, but success rates of around 95% would suggest universities are already doing quite a good job of teaching these literacy and numeracy skills.
So, is the test discriminatory?
In all standardised tests like LANTITE, NAPLAN and PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment), the questions rely on a context. This brings with it some assumptions around the “right” way to solve problems and vocabulary associated with the context rather than the skill being tested.
For instance, some of the numeracy questions in the LANTITE have been criticised for being too open to interpretation. Multiple answers are possible, depending on the way the question is read and how the reader interprets the vocabulary.
Barriers to LANTITE access
Social distancing rules have made it more difficult for student teachers to take the literacy and numeracy test, but there were already significant barriers.
The testing sites are usually in metropolitan areas. There are regional test centres, but these usually don’t have as many places and aren’t available in all four annual test windows.
This means students in regional areas need to plan more carefully and think further ahead to ensure they get a place in the test centre, in the test window, that will allow them to graduate on time.
Many students drive to metropolitan areas and book overnight accommodation so they can arrive at the test centre well rested and ready. This is only possible for those who have the means.
For students who can’t get to a test centre, “remote proctoring” is available, where the space in which the student takes the test is monitored by audio and video through their computer. Access to this relies on having computer hardware that meets minimum standards, a stable internet connection, as well as a quiet environment where the test can be taken at the designated time without interruption.
Unfortunately, Australia’s internet network is not so reliable.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, remote proctoring is the only option available, but the test provider can’t provide enough places for all students who need to take the test this year. Not being able to do the test will delay students’ graduation and future employment prospects.
Cost is another barrier to access. To complete both literacy and numeracy components of the test costs $196, which is a lot for a student living near the poverty line. Research emerging from Murdoch University has revealed the test takes an emotional and financial toll on many student teachers.
Some students want to put off taking the test for as long as possible, to give themselves the best chance of passing the first time.
This means if they fail, they not only need to find the money again, but they have limited time to do so without delaying their graduation.
There is a “three strikes” rule – meaning if a student teacher fails either the literacy or numeracy component three times, they can’t take it again.
As LANTITE success is required for graduation from a teaching degree, all of these barriers create significant problems for student teachers.
Is the test working?
Because LANTITE is part of a suite of reforms, it’s not possible to determine whether the test has made an impact on the number or quality of teachers entering the profession.
What we do know is it assesses a very small subset of the skills required for teaching and has a disproportionate impact on student teachers’ futures. We also know it has had unintended impacts, including increasing academic stresses on student teachers and adverse effects on their confidence and teacher identity.