Two days ago, one of the top dailies in India – The Times of India (TOI) – reported on its City page (Mumbai) of a new proposal by the Maharashtra state government to “introduce competency tests for aided primary schools from the next academic year…[administered] by external agencies for students from Class I to VIII.”
Back here at the InOpen office, we got to thinking about the merits and demerits of adding such a test to the Right To Education Act’s existing “Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation” (CCE) framework. By design, the CCE is meant to significantly reduce the stress of a single high-stakes Xth grade exam, as was the case with the Indian education boards. The framework stipulates several additional modes of assessing learning, such as year round formative assessments, assignments and projects, which when tracked sincerely produce a more holistic picture of a student’s achievements. Education Officer Dipika Mishra (DM) and Education Development Manager Pem Zimik (PZ) weighed in on the matter with their initial reactions.
Several principals have stated their concern about this proposal. Where do you stand?
DM: I agree with the proposal. Specifically, it is the aspect of “external testing” that appeals to me. Internal assessments tend to have the potential to pose integrity issues.
Doesn’t that bring us back to the existence of a single high-stakes exam model?
DM: It certainly could become that, but we need to ensure that the test in fact checks for competency and thinking skills. It should definitely not determine pass/ fail!
How is competency different from knowledge (of facts, figures, terms)?
DM: Well, by competency, I refer to the ability to apply what you know in new scenarios.
Imagine you have been endowed the authority to take this forward. What would you focus on?
DM: I think this test would be a good opportunity to assess students’ ability and requirements. At the end of the day, a well designed test is one that takes into account the different student needs. Needs could take the form of, say, i) greater inclination towards specific subjects, ii) different learning styles, iii) different test taking styles. Another underlying assumption we should revisit is the idea of a grade levels. One group of kids labeled Grade V currently may internalise grade V knowledge in one year (and therefore will fit the societal assumption), whereas another group may require greater (or fewer!) number of instruction hours for the same topics. Therefore, whereas an end of year test is important as a periodical check, it cannot just be blindly standardized without catering to these important differences.
What is your main take away from this proposal?
PZ: I completely echo the concerns issued by the many principals. The introduction of a new test is unnecessary in the current scheme. The CCE is a move in the right direction (away from the high-stakes model), and we should focus on fine-tuning the implementation of this existing mechanism. We need explore ways in which assessments within the CCE framework can be designed such that they achieve the same objective as that of this proposed test.
You’re implying that such a test is then a step back from the original intent of the CCE?
PZ: Yes, absolutely. I think such a test is effectively a regression of the CCE to the old model. The CCE is meant to be “continuous” and “comprehensive” gauging of what a kid has learned. Compared to the old model, it is superior in terms of scope and actual ability of capturing a more well rounded “conclusion” about a child’s achievements. Take for example how it outlines a list of criteria/ learning outcomes for each subject that – and this is what is new – must uniquely be tracked with grades allotted for each, vis-à-vis a the single test model in which individual learning outcomes are often lost in being clubbed together as in, say, an “English Test” or “Science Test”.
What is your counter-proposal?
PZ: Divert resources into meaningful CCE training programs, instead of bearing the costs of administering a state-wide test! One of the issues with the status quo is that many educators feel they don’t actually know what they’re supposed to be doing, and that the induction provided (if it was) was inadequate. The bottomline is that many still see it as an add-on duty that simply adds work to their already burgeoning to-do lists. More focus needs to be put into these initial training programs that will help teachers (and school management) transition into this new method. We need to prepare them to engage in higher quality implementation of CCE, and not just another paperwork heavy task.
As to concerns with potential integrity issues that may assail internal systems of assessments?
PZ: That’s a valid point. Still, I like to believe in teachers, believe in the best in them. My sense is that instances of breach merely represent the proverbial few bad apples, and do not reflect true macro tendencies. We need to put our faith in teachers, give them the training – meaningful, well designed training programs, and go from there!
Editor’s Note: To be sure, we all observed that the news article, in and of itself, was a fairly introductory description of the proposal. As such, it lacks details of the proposal and the manner/method of testing, which no doubt will stream in over time. We recommend keeping your eyes peeled for more news on this prior to settling in on a final opinion – we’ll be doing the same!
The news article in question appeared in the Times of India, Mumbai Edition on 12 March 2015: TNN, “Schools say new tests not needed to evaluate kids, Want tool available under RTE Act to be used in correct way,” Times of India, P.8