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Assessment Led Reform

Context and Vision

Statistical and empirical evidence gathered from various surveys on learning levels point to the significant proportion of children attending government schools, who go through primary stage and learn very little. Such children are unlikely to complete middle or secondary school. The quality of schooling depends on variety of factors including infrastructure, presence and motivation of teachers, minimum teaching standards and demonstrable learning outcomes of students. (Status of learning achievements in India: A review of empirical research, Sujata Reddy 2004).

Almost every major committee constituted to review the education system from time to time, has concluded and recommended that if we wish to move towards the goal of comprehensive educational reform then, reform in the examination system is a critical issue. It is widely accepted that the current mode of public examination determines the way teaching learning takes place. Many experiments and initiatives that have sought to improve class room and teaching learning processes without accompanying examination reform have not been able to impact the system.

Despite this generally accepted view that examination system can have a large influence on the kind of teaching learning that takes place in the class room, changes in examination process at school level have not been attempted in a major way and thus we are unable to conclude how effective such an approach will be to achieve the comprehensive education change that is desired.

As a first step, examination reform can address one major criticism of the existing pattern, namely, that it tests rote learning to the neglect of basic competencies or conceptual understanding and application that are supposed to be the objectives of the curriculum. If such competencies and conceptual understanding are assessed in a manner that answers cannot be given by mere rote memorization but require comprehension, understanding and even internalizing the concepts, then teaching learning methods will move away from emphasis on rote to comprehension, application, problem solving abilities etc.

The way we are defining the concept and objectives of Learning Guarantee Program Examinations define the way teaching takes place and therefore reforms in assessment will influence reforms in class room processes. Assessing a child's real understanding, application, problem solving abilities, analysis etc, will lead to different classroom practices. Analysis and feedback will lead to positive response from teachers and the teacher support system. The Learning Guarantee Program is seen as a vehicle for bringing change in class room processes through change in the way we assess the learning of children: "Assessment Led Reforms". The program s designed in a manner to:

  • Create a spirit of accountability among schools and education functionaries for the learning of every child
  • Influence change in class room processes by introducing reforms in assessment through competency based assessment to replace test of rote learning
The long term objective of the program is to ensure every school enables every child to achieve quality learning. This would be necessary to ensure equity with quality. This will also be the measure of the accountability of the school to the community whose children are studying in their schools with the expectation that they will receive quality education.

Our Perspective on Assessment

  • Ideally teaching practices should be geared to the aims of the curriculum, and assessment should reflect curricular objectives in such a way that it reinforces the best practices in teaching. In reality, however, the relationships among assessment, curriculum, and instruction are not always ideal. Striving for quality education necessarily entails a multi pronged approach dealing with the education in its totality.
  • To begin with, the program in its assessment of learning has restricted itself to the test of cognitive abilities. Given the grim ground realities in terms of learning outcomes prevailing in the country this is perhaps a fair point to begin the journey.
  • The hypothesis is that change in assessment methods will bring about the change in class room teaching learning processes, since the way we test influences the way we teach. The experiment or program provides a motivational platform to encourage such efforts. In such a context, the principle focus of reform is at the school and systemic level even though it is aimed through introduction of the newer assessment principles and methods at the level of individual student tests.
  • We are thus not looking at a micro-level picture of assessment at individual learner’s performance per se. Rather, we look at assessment at a macro-level at assessment of learners’ as a group.
  • The assessment in the LGP may be seen as summative but is not restrictive to being assessment of learning since the feedback from such assessment forms a crucial link to the process of initiating improvements in the class room pedagogy, both at the individual school level as well as at the systemic level. To illustrate, if we are testing the third standard students at the end of the year, the results will be fed back to the teachers who handle third standard class as well as the teachers who handle the fourth standard classes. The rationale behind the feed forward is the notion that competencies are continuous and so teachers will gain insight into the problems generally faced by students in acquiring a particular competence
  • The primary function of education is all round development of the individual and therefore scholars feel that a reliable indicator of quality education would be assessment of both cognitive and non cognitive abilities and traits. At the same time it is also admitted that very little is known about non-cognitive evaluation. Since the overarching concept of assessment reform is seen as a contribution to comprehensive education development, we need to understand these aspects so that they can at a point of time become a part of the overall school quality assessment rubric.

Process

  • Since the parameters of this examination are different from the current tests that take place, the chances of many schools performing satisfactorily are low. So as a first step, the program lets the schools / teachers know the kind of assessment proposed in advance and decide for themselves whether they are prepared to subject themselves and their students to this kind of examination. This is the voluntary nature of participation of schools showing a willingness to participate in this process of reform.
  • There is also a belief that once teachers and schools are aware of the way understanding and application of competencies/ concepts are tested – which are essentially from the existing curriculum/ syllabus – they are likely to modify their teaching learning processes to enable students to perform well in this kind of examination. It will give an impetus to the change in teaching learning processes and practices.
  • In order to motivate these schools and teachers to join this reform process, the program is designed to recognize the efforts of those who demonstrate through the assessment that their students perform well. Such schools are recognised as the role models that can demonstrate how other schools in similar conditions can by changing themselves also achieve similar performance and success. Therefore the program will provide opportunity to schools to take up the challenge and move from current levels in the ensuing years towards higher levels and success.
  • Change cannot occur suddenly. It is a gradual process and therefore the program is designed to give schools a few years to demonstrate their progress. Therefore the program provides feedback and detailed analysis of performance in a transparent manner to schools, teachers and all stakeholders so that improvement can be targeted in a planned manner. The program has the scope to recognize the improvement made by different schools.
  • The program’s focus is in motivating the schools to embrace the reform in assessment and class room processes and demonstrate their progress. Recognition, reward and public felicitation are means towards this.
  • There is no place for any punitive action or penalty for schools that are far from the desired levels as seen through the independent evaluation. It is generally felt that use of scientific data to understand the situation, arrive at root causes and apply appropriate measures can be of great help to the system.
  • It is in this light that the results of school evaluation, the analysis and feedback are used by the state and its academic and administrative system to analyze and provide appropriate support and encouragement for the schools to improve.
  • It has been suggested earlier in this document that this program is an attempt to influence class room reform through examination reform. However there is also a general feeling that in the majority of cases, teachers may not have the pedagogical skills to move from rote to non rote teaching learning. In order to help teachers in these participating schools, the academic support system in the state, consisting of the DIET, BRC, and CRC etc. are expected to provide the expertise to help teachers.
  • In fact the program is expected to generate demand in teachers for specific capacity building support from their academic system. This is different from the current practice of providing all teachers a uniform training menu that is not based on grass root – bottom up teacher needs.
  • Further, it may also be a reality that BRC, CRC, DIET members etc. may not themselves be equipped to provide such support for class room reform. And perhaps only some DIETs may have such competence. In such a case, the state has to find ways of improving the expertise of their academic system and call in resource agencies available in the country. Such agencies are well known to the states themselves and where required the Foundation can also facilitate an association to be forged between state and such resource agencies.
  • Being a new subject, schools and teachers will need orientation and sensitization to these assessment methods. The program has the space and scope to provide CRCs, BRCs and teachers
    • Necessary orientation on the overarching need to reform assessment;
    • The role of such assessment in ensuring their children learn;
    • How to develop such questions in the course of their regular lesson plans;
    • Build a bank of such questions that they can continuously try and familiarize with over a period of time.
  • Thus if regular interaction with teachers at the block level are felt necessary, the program provides the space for such inputs.
  • We belive that schools and their academic support system may undertake to reform their class room processes in many different ways and we hope that multiple methods will come to the fore. The spirit is that a number of innovative interventions should be tried by schools and systems to perform well.
  • To maximize the potential of assessment reforms in creating change in the class room, it is necessary to also engage actively with processes such as academic capacity building of the functionaries; leadership skills; enabling teachers to acquire and use the academic inputs. The momentum generated by Learning Guarantee Program can be fully leveraged and the program can logically evolve and extend itself into a holistic academic program. This is how the holistic LGP is being conceptualized. The state teams in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat are redesigning their respective programmes accordingly with effect from academic year 2008-09.
  • While this document has so far touched upon the changes in academic system that the program could influence, it is also recognized that it also has the potential to significantly influence the administrative system. Illustratively, the administrators could decide to provide a pupil teacher ratio as per norms in schools that take up the challenge; they could also allot a fixed tenure at the participating school for their teachers to demonstrate the fruits of their efforts; they could personally monitor that the requisite infrastructure is available in the school etc.

Outcomes

LGP was first launched in Karnataka in 2003 and ran for three years. Also the program ran for two years in Madhya Pradesh. Currently, LGP is on in two districts each of Rajasthan and Gujarat. In Uttarakhand the program has expanded to six districts.

The specific outcomes of LGP can be understood at three levels:

  • Examination Reform
    One of the objectives of LGP has been the reform in public examination from typically testing of rote learning to assessing understanding.
    Karnataka has adopted LGP way of competency assessment through a specific agency – Karnataka State Quality Assurance Organization (KSQAO) – and has carried two annual assessments across the state.
    Some of the other states where LGP is currently on have agreed to replace their conventional district-level public examination with LGP assessment.
  • Holistic Systemic Change
    We believe that assessment reform is a good entry point to system-wide change, including changes in curriculum, teacher preparation and support, administrative reforms etc.
    Some of the LGP states have formed district-level bodies to spearhead changes in the rest of the system using LGP assessment as the basis. We actively support such initiatives, including bringing in expertise from outside for capacity building.
  • Building Assessment Capability
    Foundation’s engagement with various aspects of assessment, such as framing good test items, analyzing the responses, finding patterns etc., is leading to development of capability both within the Foundation as well as in the teachers and other academic staff in the system.

Researches

The Foundation has carried out several researches relating to the Learning Guarantee Program. These are given below: