Recruiting students with higher grades won't alone improve teaching quality in schools

January 22, 2016 by Tony Loughland, Unsw Australia, The Conversation

The Victorian government's plan to introduce a (as yet unspecified) minimum ATAR for students looking to study a teaching course is not a silver bullet to improving teaching standards in schools.

Recruiting teachers with higher grades may help improve the profile of the profession, but it is not a shortcut to establishing the kind of quality teaching in schools that society expects. In 2015, just one in five undergraduate entrants to a teaching program were school leavers with an ATAR. This means lots of entrants to teaching degrees come as mature-age students or transfer from other courses, rather than straight out of year 12.

The announcement follows a policy change in New South Wales, which means that from this year, teaching students who do not receive more than 80% in at least three subjects at school, including English, won't get jobs when they graduate.

The aim of this policy was to attract more high-achieving students to the profession – teachers will be recruited from the top 30% of school leavers.

The top 30% was arbitrarily chosen; there is no clear consensus in the research that recruiting students from the top 30% will guarantee a quality teaching profession.

The actual policy lever chosen by NSW is more rigorous and clever than a broad top 30% ATAR cutoff, as three Band Fives (80-89 marks) constitute an actual performance measure in three subjects including English.

Whereas the relative ATAR ranking can be boosted by astute subject selection on the part of students and through bonus schemes offered by providers.

Recruiting teacher education students

The shift away from school leavers with an ATAR has been significant in the last decade.

Australian entrants applying from a secondary education without an ATAR increased significantly between 2005 to 2013 by 67%.

This change in enrolment patterns demands a more comprehensive approach to selecting candidates for teacher education programs that goes beyond establishing minimum ATAR cutoff points.

How to boost quality

There are a multitude of pathways to a teaching degree, as well as current policy measures in place to ensure that graduates are classroom ready.

Teacher education providers have been working alongside the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, and their equivalent state teacher accreditation authorities, to introduce a broad range of input and outcome measures to assure teacher quality.

These measures include the introduction of a literacy and numeracy test as a threshold barrier for teacher education graduates who wish to gain employment in Australian schools.

In a 2015 pilot study sat by 5,000 teacher education students across the country, 92% passed in literacy and 90% in numeracy.

This is a performance outcome measure not loved by teacher educators, but it does allow students who experienced significant disadvantage during the high school years and thus a lower ATAR ranking to demonstrate their literacy and numeracy skills before graduation rather than on entry.

Under a minimum ATAR policy measure this disadvantaged student would miss out on entry altogether.

Some interesting research projects in the area of teacher selection are also underway in both Australia and overseas.

Researchers are examining non-academic criteria for selection such as personal characteristics that would augment and inform academic criteria such as minimum ATAR rankings.

Another large international study has appropriated the judgement test methodology from medical schools to create a teacher judgement test for prospective entrants into teacher education courses in the UK.

The timing of this test, just as in the case of the literacy and numeracy test, is a point of contention. Is it fair to conduct a teacher judgement test before candidates understand anything about teaching or should this be a condition of graduation?

A range of outcome measures needs to be employed throughout the teacher education process to assure a quality teacher upon graduation.

Explore further: Training more effective teachers through alternative pathways

Related Stories

Training more effective teachers through alternative pathways

September 17, 2015

In "Licensure and Worker Quality: A Comparison of Alternative Routes to Teaching," published in The Journal of Law and Economics, Tim R. Sass compares the characteristics and performance of Florida teachers who graduate from ...

Pay teachers according to expertise, report finds

July 11, 2013

Governments should invest in postgraduate school teacher education and primary-level specialist teachers in maths and science, according to a new green paper released today by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Recommended for you

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...

Chance discovery of forgotten 1960s 'preprint' experiment

November 16, 2017

For years, scientists have complained that it can take months or even years for a scientific discovery to be published, because of the slowness of peer review. To cut through this problem, researchers in physics and mathematics ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.