Assessment of learning outcomes is an integral part of school education. Teaching must be followed by a high quality assessment of student performances. Assessment performs a number of functions. It not only provides feedback to students on their learning progress but also helps teachers gauge the same and reformulate pedagogies as required. Further, it aids academic bodies in determining the relevance of existing present curricula, revising the syllabi and course materials, and training teachers accordingly.
Although the government of India achieved high enrollment rates in primary schools through RTE Act (2009) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the quality of education and learning outcomes of the students remains poor. Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) and District Information System for Education (DISE) are the two major surveys in India that study the enrolment rates and learning levels of children across the country. While the parameters used in DISE are largely input-based, ASER emphasizes basic learning outcomes like the ability to read English sentences and perform simple mathematical operations.
Based on the learning objectives, assessment methods can be classified into formative and summative. Summative assessment is usually conducted at the end of a grade or class to evaluate students’ learning as per certain specified standards. It usually consists of a set of questions that are common for all the students. The student should be able to demonstrate his/her learning of the entire year within the stipulated time of examination in order to be promoted to a higher grade. This kind of testing fails to assess all the other capabilities by overemphasizing rote learning. In spite of all the hype around examinations, there is little evidence that they improve learning outcomes. Rather, they result in increased stress levels for students as well as their parents Despite the rising awareness about the flawed examination patterns, students continue to be its victims and have to undergo bouts of recurrent tests that ‘decide their fate’.
The taxing nature of these examinations completely ignores learning styles and difficulties, alongside the physical, mental and emotional state of the students throughout the period of examinations. Regardless of the stark differences in the quality of teaching as well as infrastructure in schools, the same (read top) performance is expected from each student. Poor performance is adjudged as the fault of the student only, without any efforts on the part of the teachers to reflect upon its causes and what can be done to help the student learn better.
Another form of assessment is formative assessment which calls for continuous and comprehensive evaluation. It is relatively stress-free and less competitive, given its non-normative nature. For instance, the government schools of Tamil Nadu fared better than the national average in terms of learning outcomes, chiefly because of their activity-based learning (ASER 2017). Some of the world’s most successful educational systems incidentally use formative assessments. In Finland, nationwide assessments occur only once in five years for each subject. The results are not made public; neither are schools compared with each other. It must be noted that Finnish students have topped the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test for many years.
The Government of India recognized the utility of formative assessment for the diverse demographic of students across the country. Article 29 of RTE Act 2009 provides a framework for a combined formative and summative assessment called Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). CCE is a holistic assessment system that aims to develop skills of students in all areas in a stress-free environment, giving them several opportunities to demonstrate their skills and improve academic performance. Instead of an annual examination, regular assessments were prescribed in the form of assignments, quizzes, debates, group discussions, and projects. The CCE model is based on five basic parameters: the student’s engagement pattern, written work, general observations, observations during group work and individual work in class, and an anecdotal record. The state boards and central boards of education created their own models of CCE. Thus, the implementation varies from one state to another with regard to the modes of evaluation, teacher training material, sample report cards, etc. But many states are yet to develop their specific criteria for defining the learning objectives and mapping student progress.
There have been certain practical pitfalls in the implementation of CCE. More often than not, CCE models place the responsibility of assessing student progress on teachers alone, assuming that they are well aware of the challenges faced by the students and can provide them adequate support. The activity-based model of CCE meant that many assessments were based on project-making skills of students. But the ground reality is that teachers are not trained in the pedagogy of project-based learning. Eventually, CCE has more or less turned into a mere clerical exercise of maintaining registers, data entry and administering frequent tests. It is reported that in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, teachers are supposed to fill as many as 110-120 entries in students’ report cards. Against the core principles of CCE, performances of all students in various subjects and co-curricular activities are evaluated, averaged and compared across the states. Publishing the cumulative average of formative assessments violates the continuous aspect of CCE leaving little scope for improving teaching and learning methods during the formative period. Another key reason for the poor implementation of CCE is a high student-teacher ratio of 42:1, much higher than what RTE stipulated. Hence, there is a demand for more qualified and well-trained tutors.
CCE advocates that students, teachers, as well as parents should play an active part in children's education with a constructive feedback mechanism in place. NCERT reported that states like Tripura, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Haryana and Tamil Nadu lack such mechanisms. Many states claim that they have reduced the weightage of written exams to accommodate four formative assessments and two summative assessments in place. However, the paper-pencil tests continue to be the most prevalent mode of evaluation. According to new guidelines in 2017, CBSE has given 90% weightage to written tests for secondary schools. States like Tamil Nadu have only two types of formative assessment, one of them being a written exam. Thus, states must clearly demarcate assessments as formative and summative, emphasizing more on the former. For instance, the NGO Pratham has implemented an effective strategy of grouping students based on their initial learning levels rather than on age and grade. The underlying idea was to teach each group as per its current level of competency, using appropriate pedagogies, resources, and materials.
The objective of assessments is not to punish those who perform poorly, but to improve their learning outcomes. Tutors must recognize that children have different learning abilities and aptitudes. There is a need to include personal social qualities (PSQs) as an integral component of assessment. Schools can provide students the opportunity to choose their tools and techniques of assessments. CCE is a progressive policy which does not rank students and limit their ambition. However, CCE should be reformed for easier implementation. The administrative burden must be minimized with a format clearly reflecting the child’s progress, strengths and areas for improvement, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Schools must create a pupil-friendly ecosystem that nurtures students, understands their individual needs and helps them improvise on their academic performance.
1. PISA test: A survey conducted by OECD every three years, to assess the knowledge and skills acquired by fifteen-year-olds. The PISA test of 2015 focused on science, reading, mathematics and collaborative problem solving, along with assessment of financial literacy.
1. ASER centre (2018, January 16). Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2017.
Retrieved from http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER Reports/ASER 2017/aser2017fullreportfinal.pdf
2. Azim Premji Foundation (2015, November 23). Assessments in school education: The current debate. Ideas for India. Retrieved from http://www.ideasforindia.in/article.aspx?article_id=1537
3. Behar, A. (2017, August 17). Limitations of standardized tests. Livemint. Retrieved from http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/89YDYautCR4iyHTusnd3MN/Limitations-of-standardized-tests.html
4. J-PAL (n.d.). Remedial Education. Retrieved from https://www.povertyactionlab.org/scale-ups/remedial-education
5. MHRD (2015). Report of Central Advisory Board of Education sub-committee. Retrieved from http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/AssmntCCE.pdf
6. Nawani, D. (2015, January 17). Rethinking Assessments in Schools. Economic and Political Weekly, 50 (3), 37-42.
7. Sharma, K. (2016). Review of CCE Programmes of States and UTs (A Study). Retrieved from http://www.ncert.nic.in/departments/nie/dee/publication/pdf/Review_CCE_States_UT_2016.pdf
Kenneth John, (2017, April 11), Not allowed to cheat: Is that why over 2.7 lakh students have skipped UP Board exams?, Hindustan Times
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