President’s comment :12 June 2012

More testing times for teachers

Teachers don’t even have to wait to enter a classroom before they get their first taste of teacher bashing; the stick is now being wielded as soon as aspiring teachers receive their QTAC offers.

Every year there is a media frenzy about the OP scores required to enter education studies at Queensland universities. Inevitably, the stories run with little or no context, such as changes from previous years, or explanation that required OP scores basically reflect “market demand”, or comparisons of graduate and career earnings with other four-year trained professions.

This year, there has been more frenzy generated by a trial of the proposed “Pre-registration for Aspiring Primary Teachers Test” – now postponed by the LNP government – again with little context but a great deal of journalistic chest-beating.

Buried in the original story in The Courier-Mail on 11 June was a quote from Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek that explained how the trial test should be interpreted: “The trial test was conducted on less than 10 per cent of the entire cohort of third and fourth-year teaching students to assess the validity of the possible test questions and the logistics of implementing the test itself, rather than the quality of teaching graduates.”

This was apparently an inconvenient truth for the newspaper, which ran the front-page headline “Student teachers fail test”, and other news outlets which became even more over-excited and, in 30-second news grabs, started talking about “shock results in teacher tests” and claiming that “almost half of student primary teachers (are) failing a test featuring questions normally pitched to year seven pupils.”

Obvious issues are the gross over-simplification and distortion of reporting on the trial; inconsistencies in test development including the fact that it apparently applies to all aspiring prep to year 7 teachers but tests P-9 content; and the odd concept of developing a test for all future primary teachers who would almost invariably have studied in one of the specific fields of early or middle years education.

There was also the irony of The Courier-Mail’s choice of sample test questions: the correct answer to “which of the following is the most effective way to monitor a student’s progress with literacy skills” was not “a standardised test of reading and writing administered once a year”, despite that newspaper’s apparent obsession with using NAPLAN results as the sole indicator of education outcomes.

The most insidious aspect is that this represents yet another example of high-stakes testing being used to demean and control the teaching profession. Student teachers are already thoroughly assessed throughout their four years of university study, including 80 days’ practicum, but apparently that counts for nothing to most media commentators.

Teachers entering the profession face a hard slog, with schools expected to take on, and solve, more and more of society’s general ills on increasingly tight budgets. The annual AEU “State of our schools” survey consistently shows that more than 30 per cent of Queensland’s new teachers expect to stay in the teaching profession for 10 years or less.

To reduce a graduate’s chance of working in their chosen profession to a one-off test after four years of study is insulting at best, and career-destroying at worst.

New teachers are clearly the future of Queensland education: they are worth nurturing and supporting.

Kevin Bates