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Literacy and numeracy tests for initial teacher education - Q & A

Why has the NSW Government required teacher education students to pass literacy and numeracy tests?

In 2013 the NSW Government announced Great Teaching, Inspired Learning (GTIL), a comprehensive set of reforms to improve teaching quality and lift the performance of the teaching profession in NSW. One specific reform was to require all student teachers to pass literacy and numeracy tests before commencing their final professional experience placements in NSW schools. This will ensure that teacher education graduates have levels of literacy and numeracy at least equivalent to those of the top 30% of the population and relevant to teaching.

What is professional experience?

This supervised teaching practice (also known as ‘professional experience’, ‘practicum’ or ‘practicum placement’) is a critical component of teacher training as it provides teacher education students with an opportunity to apply both their subject knowledge and their teaching skills in a real classroom. Teacher education students are exposed to the tasks of delivering the curriculum, managing students in a classroom and working as part of a school community. Teacher education students continue to learn through their professional placements by being supervised by teachers already in the workforce.

Teacher education students completing fouryear undergraduate programs are required to complete 80 days of supervised teaching practice; while those completing graduate entry two year programs are required to complete 60 days of supervised teaching practice.

Will all NSW universities participate in the trial tests?

Yes. All universities have indicated a willingness to be involved.

Do all teacher education students have to sit the trial tests?

No. It will be voluntary for students to participate in the trial this year. Some universities may strongly encourage their students to participate.

How will the trial tests be undertaken and how long are they?

The trial tests will be undertaken by students who have volunteered and who receive a logon and password for logging on to a test site and sitting the online test. Each test (literacy and numeracy) will take approximately 45 minutes. They will be administered and scrutinised by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Will the students sitting for the trial tests find out what their results are?

As it is a trial it is not appropriate to provide test results to the student participants. The trial is an opportunity for the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) and the Australian Institute for Teaching School Leadership (AITSL) to make sure that an appropriate set of test items has been developed and that the pass mark is set at the right level. BOSTES and AITSL need to know they are on the right track.

Who is covering the costs of the tests?

AITSL is covering all the costs of administering the trial tests.

What happens after the trial?

After the trial, the literacy and numeracy tests will be evaluated and refined. The tests are expected to be fully available next year, and from 2016 all teacher education students will need to have passed them before undertaking their final practicum.

What happens to students who fail the tests?

If a student fails either or both of the tests, they will have an opportunity to get additional support and remediation from their university and will be able to sit the test(s) at another time. Students may be required to take the test(s) more than once to achieve a pass.

Effective teacher education programs already focus on building the literacy and numeracy skills of their students.

Why are the tests only in literacy and numeracy?  Why not have tests in other subject areas?

All teachers need to have sound literacy and numeracy skills to teach students effectively and to be good role models for students in these areas. Every teacher should be able to further develop the English literacy and numeracy skills of students in both primary and secondary teaching areas.

Literacy and numeracy are core skills for a teacher entering the classroom. While teacher education students may have sat NAPLAN tests and the HSC, these new tests are about ensuring they have the core strengths needed as classroom teachers. These tests are about ensuring that students in teaching courses are assessed and supported in building these fundamental skills alongside their development of subject knowledge and teaching skills.

Why do all teachers need to demonstrate numeracy capabilities?

All teachers can help support student numeracy development no matter the subject – history, science, visual arts, PDHPE. Primary teachers have a special role to play in developing sound numeracy and mathematical skills among primary students.

How will you know whether the tests are strong enough? Do they identify those students who do not have the required literacy and numeracy skills to be effective teachers?

The Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW (BOSTES) will map the levels of literacy and numeracy achieved to those required to effectively teach the curriculum. ACER and the BOSTES have the technical expertise to ensure the tests are pitched at the right level of complexity and rigour. The trialling of the test items will confirm the appropriate test elements and identify the appropriate pass mark that students will need to achieve before undertaking their final professional experience.

Will students training to be secondary mathematics and English teachers still need to do the tests?

Both primary and secondary teachers will be required to pass the tests at some point in their teacher preparation before undertaking their final practicum.

Year 9 students undertake a NAPLAN test in literacy andnumeracy, and all students are required to study English to receive their HSC. Why do we need these tests?

NAPLAN is a diagnostic test that identifies whether students have the literacy and numeracy skills that provide the critical foundation for their learning. The HSC credential is accepted as an entry-level qualification at every university and college in Australia and is widely recognised throughout the world. It provides young people with a strong foundation for pursuing tertiary studies, vocational training or employment.

Great teaching doesn’t just happen. Teachers need to be developed, supported and rewarded to create the inspired learning that will develop lifelong capacities instudents. Teachers need the capabilities to collaborate with and learn from others,assess their own practice, respond to feedback and leverage technology to improve student learning.

Great teachers know the content of the subjects they teach and have a deepunderstanding of how learning happens.

Therefore, the literacy and numeracy tests are not diagnostic tests to determinewhether an individual teacher education student is literate or numerate. The tests are designed to use a teacher education student’s understanding of literacy and numeracy to adapt their understanding and skills directly into their teaching methods and related teaching duties.

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