More teachers failing maths and English test. But not everyone got a fair go

The government will clear debt for those who spend four years teaching in a very remote location.

The government will clear debt for those who spend four years teaching in a very remote location. Photo: Getty

Trainee teachers say they have been forced to take up part-time cleaning or move on to JobSeeker despite demand for them to work in schools.

Standing in the way of a teaching job is a single test that one critic is labelling a “cash cow” for the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER).

ACER data implies as many as one in 10 wannabe teachers are reaching the end of their university degrees without the maths and English skills required to be a teacher.

And the fail rate has grown in the past four years.

New figures show 1710 of Australia’s would-be teachers couldn’t pass a test on writing, reading, spelling and comprehension in the past year.

More than 1920 failed to meet the benchmark for maths.

  • Could you pass the test? Try the questions below! 

In 2016, 4.8 per cent of the student teachers (628 people out of 13,000 candidates) failed the literacy test.

About 5.8 per cent (759) failed to meet in numeracy.

Testing results publicly released this week following inquiries from The New Daily show the fail rate for literacy is up to 8.3 per cent (1716 candidates) for literacy and 9.3 per cent (1925 candidates) for numeracy.

The fail rate is down slightly on the year before, but almost double since the benchmark was set in 2016.

Testing labelled unfair, cash grab

But now hundreds of final-year university students are calling for the benchmark system to be overhauled.

They said the testing has been unfair and discriminatory – and disadvantaging them further during the coronavirus pandemic.

Luke Cutler is a Masters of Teaching student who should have graduated by now, but instead he’s taken work as a commercial cleaner.

Mr Cutler said his skills acquired through years of study could have been put to good use during COVID-19.

“I have teaching work lined up, but I cannot accept it,” he said.

Introduced in mid-2016, the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education Students (LANTITE) is said to ensure those who graduate have literacy and numeracy skills that are in the top 30 per cent of the Australian adult population.

Since its introduction, the pass rate has dropped from about 95 per cent to 90 per cent.

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A group called Student Teachers Acting Against LANTITE has close to 700 members, most of whom cannot graduate due to them failing the test.

The majority either have a disability, speak English as a second language or are Indigenous Australians.

And they have tens of thousands of dollars in HECS debt, but no degree.

Mr Cutler failed by the narrowest of margins.

Mr Cutler has been unable to graduate after failing the numeracy component four times.

He has one shot remaining.

His most recent attempt saw him achieve a mark of 109, but he needed to score 110 to pass, he said.

He has a learning disorder called dyscalculia, meaning he has to work extra hard to comprehend mathematical concepts.

“My subject areas are English, history and German. I have my placement reports that all demonstrate I know the curriculum, I know the pedagogies, I know the methodologies, I know how to teach.”

Before it became a course requirement in 2016, Eilis Villella sold her house because she couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage and continue studying.

Had she known about LANTITE, Ms Villella said she would have given up the degree instead.

After multiple failed attempts at LANTITE’s maths section, she wrote to her university explaining that she was dealing with personal issues and requested to graduate.

“I have already lost too much and cannot face the fact that I will lose my degree as well, leaving my already struggling family with $30,000 in HECS debt and no degree,” she wrote.

They rejected her request.

She now works as a sales representative.

Sammantha Hutchinson is now on JobSeeker, but struggling to find work, a time she hoped to be a teacher.

Ms Hutchinson studied a primary education degree online with Swinburne University and finished her degree in 2019.

But she has consistently failed the numeracy part of the LANTITE test.

She said her degree did not require her to learn the level of maths she was being tested on through LANTITE.

“It’s depressing to have completed a degree and yet not have the piece of paper resulting in myself relying on Centrelink,” she said.

Students are given three attempts and they can sit the test a fourth or fifth time if there are special or extenuating circumstances.

Dr David Zyngier, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Southern Cross University, accused the examining authority of using LANTITE as a “cash cow”.

The cost is $196 for both the literacy test and numeracy test or $98 for a single test component.

Dr Zyngier estimates ACER has collected more than $15.5 million since testing started in 2016 (not counting resits).

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