Somerset Times

Add Infinitum – Testing Time for Teachers

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Somerset Times Edition

Week 6,
Term Two, 2016

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NAPLAN testing has come and gone and now students are involved in subject–based exams, not to mention the MYP Personal Project in Year 10. But now spare a thought for future teachers. From July 2016, education students will have to pass a new literacy and numeracy test if they are to be registered as teachers.

The good news is that in a pilot study of 5,000 students, 92% passed the literacy and 90% passed the numeracy. The bad news is that this data was from a volunteer sample of students. The much more 'worserer' news is that almost 2,000 graduating education students each year will have failed these examinations. That means that they can’t write 'propper'.

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Perhaps the tests were not authentic. Maybe they lacked validity. It is feasible that they were unreliable but as they were developed by ACER, that all seems highly unlikely! It might be interesting to look at the sample questions provided.

The first thing to note in Section 1 is the instruction ‘Calculator available. Pen and paper may be used’. That directive sounds like some subtle logic puzzle with no solution. The first question on the numeracy test requires an acute understanding that percentages add up to 100%. The second necessitates multi-tasking - a multiplication and then a subtraction operation taken from a table of data. The third problem is based on a map where the key skill is to know your left from your right. Surely everyone will get that one right. Question 4 enters the 2nd dimension, requiring an area calculation which is followed by a straight forward weighted average and a couple of graphs to interpret. Perhaps the rigour in the test is found in section 2 – the dreaded non-calculator section – guess again! The weight of a box of stationery is 3.2 kilograms. What is the weight of 100 such boxes? That problem would probably be harder to solve if a calculator was used! The last question involved finding 2% of 22 million with the answer given in a multiple choice format. (Answer: 440,000).

The aim of the test is to encourage universities to only accept students who are capable of ranking within the top 30% of the population for literacy and numeracy. Currently only one in five teaching students have a tertiary entrance rank of 80 or above (an OP 10 in Queensland). It is interesting to match these questions up with the Australian Curriculum where they are said to be approximately Year 10 standard. However I reckon there are harder maths questions on the recent Year 9 NAPLAN tests.

It is certainly good to see that there are some basic levels of literacy and numeracy required for the profession of teaching. Not every teacher will be teaching complex calculus calculations or the socio-cultural symbolism in Shakespeare but it is a worry that the standard has been set so low. The Queensland Department of Education and Training lists three of the qualities of a good teacher to include enjoying a challenge, coping well with change and having a sense of humour. For the pass mark on these traits, I have to refer to the words of Meat Loaf, ‘Now don't be sad, 'Cause two out of three ain't bad’.

For those who want to match their maths against 11 year olds, here is a question from the recent UK Mathematics Trust’s Junior Maths Challenge (equivalent to our Maths Olympiad), which was sat by 300,000 11 to 13 year olds.

In the addition sum shown, each letter represents a different non-zero digit. What digit does X represent?

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Only 23% of students got it right while 52% did not even answer. In a recent newspaper poll, 66% of Guardian readers managed the correct answer.

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