Should teachers know what ‘explicit’ means?

The Australian government is rolling out plans to require prospective teachers to pass basic tests of numeracy and literacy. The aim is to ensure that educators are in the top 30% of the population in these areas. A recent pilot found that around one in ten teaching students failed the tests which include questions such as:

All students have been given explicit instruction about how to record their findings during the excursion.

Which of the following is closest in meaning to explicit?

A. extensive     B. simple     C. hands-on    D. clearly-stated

Interestingly, the Australian Education Union expressed concerns about the results and said they showed the need for minimum entry requirements to teaching courses. The government prefer instead to rely on these kinds of tests to weed-out poor candidates.

I would be happy with a minimum entry standard but the tests also seem like a reasonable approach. Such exams exist in other countries. I would certainly not want qualified teachers who don’t even know what the word ‘explicit’ means.

Predictably, some in the education establishment don’t like these tests at all. They point to a lack of evidence to link them to the performance of students (how could there be any?). This is in line with a broader anti-testing ideology. The case is made that other things are important too; how can we measure enthusiasm or the ability to plan excursions? This is a fallacious argument. It’s a bit like saying we shouldn’t ask people to sit a driving test because we don’t also measure how they might react in an accident or whether they know where to find the cheapest petrol. Nobody is claiming that passing a test of basic literacy and numeracy is sufficient to be a great teacher (See this piece for example – the simple answer to the headline is, “No. So what?”).

Tests like this only show us whether teachers can add-up and spell. Which most people would reckon is pretty important.

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4 Comments on “Should teachers know what ‘explicit’ means?”

  1. There was a discussion recently on Twitter about this. Some people were using the arguments as above. The test in UK is timed & others were arguing that it shouldn’t be! Still others were saying they don’t mind the test or the fact that it’s times. They just want everyone to have as many goes as it takes to eventually pass it! Some couldn’t understand why a, say Arts teacher, should be numerate! As a mother I would expect my child’s teacher to be able to subtract and express the answer as a percentage and do this within the given time. Anything less isn’t acceptable.

    • Stan says:

      Well at least the debate shows who would fail a basic test of understanding of logic.
      Anyone who argues along the lines

      — Bad spellers make bad teachers so all good spellers are good teachers–

      should not be let near children in the role of a teacher or government in the role of minister of education.

      This includes both the person linked to by Greg and the education minister who overstated the benefits of testing.
      The benefit of testing would be to eliminate one category of bad teachers. That’s great and might allow more time for improving the remainder but that is all it does.

  2. Mr Small says:

    They’re an interesting statement on the educational establishment’s opinion of their own examinations. All UK teachers are expected to have degrees, and to have passed their English and Maths GCSEs to C grade; yet somehow these are irrelevant and some short timed-test trumps all.

    Sorry, but if I’m going to teach Maths, then I’d expect the Department of Education to value the very qualification they describe and inspect so stringently. If necessary, increase the threshold to B grades and use the test in-lieu for those without GCSEs (for example, overseas candidates), but do not imply the qualifications we are dedicating ourselves to teach are of no value.


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