Skip to main content

A linguistic analysis of the sample numeracy skills test items for pre-service teachers issued by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Abstract

In 2015, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) was tasked with developing literacy and numeracy skills testing for pre-service teachers. All undergraduate and postgraduate trainee teachers are now required to pass these literacy and numeracy tests at some stage on their journey to becoming a teacher; for commencing students from 2017 in all states (except New South Wales), successfully passing these tests is a requirement for graduation. Following this announcement, ACER released a number of sample test items for both literacy and numeracy. This study used multimodal analysis to study the nature of the language, symbolic notation and visual representations in the sample test items for numeracy, with a focus on the linguistic complexity of the questions. The findings suggest that the types of linguistic constructions found in the  assessment questions create significant challenges in terms of reading and comprehension which could impact on how the students engage with the numeracy assessment items.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. 1.

    TEMAG was appointed in (2014) by the Minister for Education (C. Pyne) and the group was tasked with undertaking a review of initial teacher education across Australia in order to determine recommendations for improvement. The findings of their review are presented in the Action Now Report.

References

  1. ACER (2015). Literacy and numeracy test for initial teacher education students. Australian Council for Educational Research. https://teacheredtest.acer.edu.au/files/Literacy_and_Numeracy_Test_for_Initial_Teacher_Education_students_-_Sample_Questions.pdf.

  2. Aiken, L. (1972). Language factors in learning mathematics. Review of Educational Research, 5(3), 359–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. AITSL (2015). http://www.aitsl.edu.au/about-us.

  4. Ball, D. L., & Bass, H. (2008). The role of mathematics in education for democracy. In G. Fenstermacher (series Ed.) & D. Coulter, & J. Wiens (volume Eds.), Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Why do we educate in a democratic society? (Vol. 107(1), pp. 171–184). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

  5. Ball, D. L., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008). Content knowledge for teaching: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education, 59(5), 389–407.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: Theory, research, critique (2nd revised edition). London: Rowman and Littlefield.

  7. Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards NSW (2017). Retrieved March, 2017 from http://www.nswteachers.nsw.edu.au/future-returning-teachers/become-a-teacher/literacy-and-numeracy-tests/.

  8. Chapman, A. (1993). Language and learning in school mathematics: A social semiotic perspective. Issues in Educational Research, 3(1), 35–46.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Department for Education (2013). Toughened up skills tests ensure only the best train to teach (press release). https://www.gov.uk/government/news/toughened-up-skills-tests-ensure-only-the-best-train-to-teach.

  10. Department for Education and Training (2016). Literacy and numeracy test for initial teacher education students: Information for students. https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/20150729_information_for_students_in_students_first_template.pdf.

  11. Díaz, V., & Poblete, A. (1994). Evaluación de los aprendizajes matemáticos en la enseñanza secundaria en el marco de la reforma educacional. Proyecto de la Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica CONICYT.

  12. Dowling, P. (1996). A sociological analysis of school mathematics texts. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 31(4), 389–485.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Eggins, S. (1994). An introduction to systemic functional linguistics (1st ed.). London: Pinter Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Geiger, V., Forgasz, H., & Goos, M. (2015). A critical orientation to numeracy across the curriculum. ZDM Mathematics Education, 47(4), 611–624.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Grant, E., Nutchey, D., Cooper, T. & English, L. (2014). Language and literacy in mathematics: Stepping stones or stumbling blocks in accelerating junior-secondary students. In STEM in education conference, 12–15 July 2014. Vancouver, BC: University of BC.

  16. Halliday, M. (1973). Explorations in the functions of language. London: Edward Arnold.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Halliday, M. A. K. (1985). Spoken and written language. Geelong, VIC: Deakin University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Halliday, M. A. K. (1993). On the language of physical science. In M. Halliday & J. Martin (Eds.), Writing science: Literacy and discursive power (pp. 54–68). London: Falmer.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Halliday, M. A. K. (2006). The language of science: Collected works of M.A.K. Halliday (Vol. 5). London: Continuum.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Halliday, M. A. K. (2009). The essential Halliday. New York: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2014). Halliday’s introduction to functional grammar (4th edn, revised C. M. I. M. Matthiessen Ed.). London: Routledge.

  23. Hammill, L. (2010). The interplay of text, symbols, and graphics in mathematics education. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 3(3), 1–8.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hobbs, L. (2013). Too many teachers teaching outside their area of expertise. https://theconversation.com/too-many-teachers-teaching-outside-their-area-of-expertise-39688.

  25. Kamio, A. (2001). English generic we, you and they: An analysis in terms of territory of information. Journal of Pragmatics, 33, 1111–1124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Klenowski, V. (2012). Raising the stakes: The challenges for teacher assessment. The Australian Educational Researcher, 39(2), 173–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Leder, G. (2012). Mathematics for all? The case for and against national testing. In Paper presented at the 12th international congress on mathematical education, Seoul, Korea.

  28. Lowrie, T., & Diezmann, C. M. (2009). National numeracy tests: A graphic tells a thousand words. Australian Journal of Education, 53(2), 141–158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Machin, S., & Vignoles, A. (2006). Education policy in the UK. London: School of Economics.

    Google Scholar 

  30. McNamara, O., Roberts, L., Tehmina, N., & Brown, T. (2002). Rites of passage in initial teacher training: Ritual, performance, ordeal and numeracy skills test. British Educational Research Journal, 28(6), 863–878.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mikk, J. (2000). Textbook: Research and writing. Oxford: Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Morgan, C. (1995). An analysis of the discourse of written reports of investigative work in GCSE mathematics. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, University of London.

  33. Morgan, C. (2004). Writing mathematically: The discourse of investigation. London: Falmer Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Morris, E. (1999). Teacher Training Agency (TTA) National Skills Tests: A guide for trainee teachers. London: TTA.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Noonan, J. (1990). Readability problems presented by mathematics texts. Early Child Development and Care, 54, 57–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. O’Halloran, K. L. (2000). Classroom discourse in mathematics: A multisemiotic analysis. Linguistics and Education, 10(3), 359–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. O’Halloran, K. L. (2005). Mathematical discourse: Language, symbolism and visual images. London: Continuum.

    Google Scholar 

  38. O’Halloran, K. L. (2008). Inter-semiotic expansion of experiential meaning: Hierarchical scales and metaphor in mathematics discourse. In C. Jones & E. Ventola (Eds.), New developments in the study of ideational meaning: From language to multimodality (pp. 231–254). London: Equinox.

    Google Scholar 

  39. O’Halloran, K. L. (2015). The language of learning mathematics: A multimodal perspective. The Journal of Mathematical Behaviour, 40(Part A), 63–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. O’Keeffe, L. (2016). A preliminary analysis of the linguistic complexity of numeracy skills sample test items. In B. White, M. Chinnappan & S. Trenholm (Eds.), Opening up mathematics education research (Proceedings of the 39th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia) (pp. 503–510). Adelaide: MERGA.

    Google Scholar 

  41. O’Toole, M. (2011). The language of displayed art (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  42. PIAAC Numeracy Expert Group (2009). PIAAC numeracy: A conceptual framework. OECD education working papers, no. 35. OECD Publishing. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED530713.pdf.

  43. Pimm, D. (1987). Speaking mathematically: Communication in mathematics classrooms. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Schleppegrell, M. J. (2007). The linguistic challenges of mathematics teaching and learning: A research review. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 23(2), 139–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. TEMAG. (2014). Action now: Classroom ready teachers. Canberra, ACT: Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group. https://www.studentsfirst.gov.au/teacher-quality.

  46. Thomson, S., De Bortoli, L., & Buckley, S. (2013). PISA 2012: How Australia measures up. Melbourne: ACER.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Van Dormolen, J. (1986). Textual analysis. In B. Christiansen, A. Howson, & M. Otte (Eds.), Perspectives on mathematical education (pp. 141–171). Dordrecht: Reidel.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  48. Wellington, J., & Osborne, J. (2001). Language and literacy in science education. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Wilson, R., Dalton, B., & Baumann, C. (2015). Six ways Australia’s education system is failing our kids. https://theconversation.com/six-ways-australias-education-system-is-failing-our-kids-32958.

  50. Wilson, T., & Barkatsas, T. (2014). The effect of language, gender and age in NAPLAN numeracy data. In J. Anderson, M. Cavanagh, & A. Prescott (Eds.), Curriculum in focus: Research guided practice (proceedings of the 37th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia) (pp. 653–660). Sydney: MERGA.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Zevenbergen, R. (1998). Language, mathematics and social disadvantage: A Bourdieuian analysis of cultural capital in mathematics education. In C. Kanes, M. Goos, & E. Warren (Eds.), Teaching mathematics in new times (proceedings of the 21st annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia) (Vol. 2, pp. 716–722). Gold Coast, QLD: MERGA.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lisa O’Keeffe.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

O’Keeffe, L., O’Halloran, K.L., Wignell, P. et al. A linguistic analysis of the sample numeracy skills test items for pre-service teachers issued by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). Aust. Educ. Res. 44, 233–253 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-017-0238-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Numeracy
  • Linguistic complexity
  • Multimodal analysis
  • Numeracy testing