Imagine your hypothetical child comes home from school with their spelling test in hand. Your child – let’s make it a girl, and let’s call her Steph– is incredibly proud of herself. She received nine out of ten on her weekly assessment. What did Steph spell incorrectly? “Weird” – apparently. As an ever-attentive parent, you ask Steph how she chose to spell weird. Out of curiosity, you want to know just how close she came to the elusive 100% mark. She bats her eyelashes and says “W-E-I-R-D.” “But,” you think to yourself, “Last I checked, that’s exactly right, why on Earth did that idiot teacher mark her wrong? My darling child deserves better than that sort of incompetence.” Suffice it to say, you’re not impressed.
As you may have expected – that story comes from my personal experience. In a year level I shan’t disclose, I proved that I was able to spell “weird” correctly, and my parents weren’t happy that I was told to spell the word with the ‘i’ and the ‘e’ transposed. I’ve been a touch colourful with mum and dad’s reaction to the experience, but allow me the hyperbole for the moment – I’ll return to this story in due course.
I completed my teaching qualification in 2012 in a climate where fear of this foreboding, looming assessment of literacy and numeracy was rife. Some of my pre-service teacher peers were terrified. Now, in 2015, the media are doing a little bit of fear mongering. During my journalism degree (pardon the shameless self promotion) I learned that the media are pretty darn good at that.
As you’re possibly a teacher reading this, I’m sure you’d like me to justify my position with examples.
Perth Now chose to point this out:
“According to a recent study, more than 200 graduates at an unnamed Australian university struggled to spell a list of 20 words including “acquaintance”, “definite”, “exaggerate” and “parallel”, with no student able to correctly spell every word on the list.”
The Herald Sun predictably went with the headline “Ten per cent of Australian trainee teachers failed pilot maths and literacy test.” As a journo, I’ve seen how teacher-bashing sells, but, as a teacher, I think “wouldn’t it have been much nicer if they pointed out that ninety per cent passed?”
You’ll note that The Conversation draws attention to the fact that the tests are a little bit silly. I don’t disagree.
Why then, am I okay with testing the literacy and numeracy skills of pre-service teachers?
To the ever-present bureaucratic forces, I say “go on then, make me jump through another hoop – this is just a formality.”
As the trial tests have shown, for ninety per cent of participants, the test was just that – a formality.
Lawyers take the Bar. Accountants sit CPA exams. Psychologists complete the National Psychology Exam. And the government wants teachers to do a multiple-choice quiz on spelling, grammar and computation.
I feel as though the future teaching fraternity’s reaction should be along the lines of “Sure thing, buddy – do you want me to do it underwater? Because, I could do it underwater if you’d like?”
My fear is that if pre-service teachers cower in the wake of a literacy and numeracy exam then the grim ‘teachers are stupid’ message is solidified.
Also, the irony inherent in future teachers pitching fits about being forced to take a test is just too rich to be real.
I hope the next crop of pre-service teachers think about ‘the test’ in the same way they’d talk to their students about an impending exam:
- It’s just a test
- Do your best
- Worst-case scenario – you’ll do it again next year.
I hope they show themselves the kindness that they’d show their kids and note that this government mandated assessment doesn’t examine whether the teacher is patient, compassionate, kind, supportive, or dedicated.
Returning to my story – I promised I’d get there eventually – the teacher that taught me to misspell weird, on reflection I’ve afforded her the basic decency of the benefit of the doubt – sometimes we have ‘brain farts’ and spelling is tricky. For the one time she marked my spelling test incorrectly, she taught me about singing, about being down-to-earth, and about being a decent human being. I’ve recovered from ‘weird,’ however, I don’t think I’d have made it this far without her influence on my personality and world-view.
To form your own opinion on the coming assessment, ACER have kindly published Sample Questions.
Oh, and some memes…
Feel free to leave a comment if you disagree – I’m happy to take new ideas into account and weave them into my own understanding. Hey, it’s something my teachers taught me…