There is no shortage of articles about how teachers are stressed, due to their complex jobs and high workloads.
But what is happening before they make it to the classroom?
There are lots of reasons why Australia has a teacher shortage and my new research sheds light on one deterrent that is not often talked about.
This is the high-stakes Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education, known as LANTITE.
What is LANTITE?
Introduced in 2017, LANTITE is made up of two separate computer-based tests: one for numeracy, and one for literacy.
The multiple-choice tests are administered independently of universities by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Universities have no visibility of the tests, or how students perform, even after results are released.
It costs A$196 to sit both tests, or A$98 to sit just one of them.
Students must find time to prepare for and attempt LANTITE on top of their theory and practical study in a teaching degree. They must pass both the literacy and numeracy components of LANTITE in order to graduate.
The pass rate is more than 90%.
A stress test
For my doctoral research, I surveyed 189 student teachers about their experience with LANTITE through an online questionnaire. They came from 33 universities across Australia. From this group, 27 students also completed in-depth interviews to further describe their experiences. I also spoke to 41 teachers and teacher educators.
Among the many stories and experiences were students like Monique* who described the test as “fun” and “just like doing an IQ test”. However, it was far more common for interviewees to report negative experiences, with a particular emphasis on the impact on mental health and wellbeing. As Suraya told me:
I ended up having a really bad panic attack, where I blacked out. I could not comprehend anything that was going on in front of me.
Suraya was not alone. My research uncovered other alarming accounts of panic attacks and even suicidal ideation from students after they had sat the test. For some students who did not pass, the stress and pressure of having to reattempt the tests resulted in prolonged mental health conditions.
Any test or exam creates a certain amount of stress. But for student teachers, LANTITE comes on top of existing study and practical teaching pressures as they finalise their degrees. For those students who need to reattempt one or more component of LANTITE, the stress escalates, as was the case for Vince.
My journey has been a nightmare. I was panicking when it came to the last questions. I was running out of time and some of the words I didn’t understand because I was panicked.
It is expensive
I also found students are paying a high price to become a teacher. While the cost to sit both components of LANTITE is just under $200 per attempt, many students purchase professional study materials and pay tutors or attend workshops to help them prepare.
One student in the study reported spending $6,000 on private tutoring. These costs have to be paid upfront, unlike HECS loans which can be deferred.
Teacher educators I interviewed echoed concerns about these costs and pressures. As Wynette said:
As a student you already have time pressures, you already have stressors and financial demands […] and to have this extra thing on top is a bit more stressful.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, culturally and linguistically diverse students, and students with disability were more likely to emphasise how harsh the LANTITE experience can be. This suggests it may hindering a more diverse workforce. As Mary, another teacher educator, explained:
If they are coming from a background or environment where they have not done a lot of high-stakes testing that will also mean that they don’t have the same experiences that your mainly more mainstream white-Anglo students do.
We don’t need this test
Yes, teachers need to have certain levels of literacy and numeracy going into the classroom. But we don’t need LANTITE to determine this.
Student teachers already have a wide range of assessments throughout their courses. These are both practical and theory-based and implicitly assess numeracy and literacy. For example, prior to graduating, students complete a nationally mandated individual teacher performance assessment, which looks at the practical skills and knowledge of a graduating teacher.
Teacher education programs also have ongoing accreditation requirements to ensure “quality” of graduates.
Standardised assessments in timed situations are also becoming less common in university studies, as programs seek more nuanced ways to assess the complex skills graduates need to teach.
A more sensible approach, which trusts the profession and universities to do their jobs training new teachers, is needed.
As other studies have argued, LANTITE is an ineffective quality control mechanism anyway, as you can resit the test multiple times if you fail. It does little to change who becomes a teacher and who does not.
If anything, LANTITE has only served to teach our future teachers how to sit a standardised test and pass. In the meantime, students’ graduation is delayed, resources are wasted and students are even more stressed.
As student Michael, summed it up, “it hurt my heart and my wallet”.
*All names have been changed
Author Bios: Alison Hilton is Academic Chair Secondary Education at Murdoch University