Assessments in Grades 3, 5, and 8 Could Bring a New Dawn for School Education
By The EDge Editorial Team
Apr 27, 2022
NEP 2020 recognises the learning gap as well as the gap in learning-oriented data to understand where children stand. The policy recommends Key-Stage Assessments (KSAs) in government and private schools in grades 3, 5 and 8. It underscores the need for these assessments to be low-stakes such that they are not used to pass or fail students; but give a snapshot of the health of the education system.
As schools begin a new academic year, they face the daunting challenge of addressing the learning crisis of the two-year-long pandemic, which comes on top of learning levels that have already been very low for years. A study by Azim Premji University in 2020 found that 92% of children have lost at least one language ability and 82% have lost at least one mathematical ability across classes 2-6. The ASER 2021 survey, conducted in Karnataka, reported a drop in reading ability by over 16 percentage points. Given the mounting learning loss and urgent need to help children ‘catch-up’, we need to shift our collective focus from access to quality of education. The need to improve learning quality also finds echo in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 which advocates for a fundamental shift in school governance from being input-centric (infrastructure, teacher qualifications etc.) to learning outcome-focused.
We organized a roundtable discussion with journalists from different media publications to discuss how the needle can be moved towards improved learning outcomes. The discussion touched upon Covid-induced learning loss; and NEP 2020’s prioritization of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) for primary-grade children, and advocacy for low-stake assessments in grade 3 which can help identify gaps in education delivery and course-correct. Below is a summary of the key discussion points from the roundtable.
How Assessments in Grades 3, 5, and 8 Can Improve Learning Outcomes
NEP 2020 recognises the learning gap as well as the gap in learning-oriented data to understand where children stand. The policy recommends assessments in government and private schools in grades 3, 5 and 8. It underscores the need for these assessments to be low-stakes such that they are not used to pass or fail students; but give a snapshot of the health of the education system. These assessments will be unlike the ‘board exams’ held for students of grades 10 and 12, and instead help understand the learning levels of children. They take inspiration from global examples, such as the UK, Australia, and, notably, Chile whose PISA ranking was among the fastest improving between 2000-2015. Their assessments for grades 4, 8, and 10 have been a central feature of their system.
The purpose of these assessments is to understand how each school fares on learning outcomes. When the school-wise information is made public, parents will be empowered to make more informed school choices based on learning outcomes, and schools will be compelled to move away from proxy indicators of quality like school buildings, English as the medium of instruction, or computer labs, to quantifiable and objective measures of education quality.
The Potential of Assessments in Grades 3, 5, and 8 for Private Schools
60% of private schools in India don’t go up to a board grade (grade 10 / 12). For those that do, school-level results are rarely available. Additionally, most state-led assessments for elementary grades 1-8 don’t include the private schools. Recently, the government-led National Achievement Survey included private schools in grades 3, 5, and 8 in 2021. This is a welcome move as assessing a sample set of private schools will provide data to gauge the health of the sector at large. However, schools and parents have no use for this sample level data, since they need information about the school(s) they are associated with.
The proposed assessments provide an opportunity for all States to address the learning levels in private schools in a way that respects the rights of both parents and schools. Public disclosure of assessment results will allow parents to choose schools that provide better learning outcomes, and thus promote competition within the school system on learning outcome-based parameters rather than input-based factors which would lead to an improvement in learning outcomes across all schools in the country. Rigorous research carried out in Punjab and Rajasthan bears out this idea, showing that providing school-level report cards based on learning outcomes improves results of schools.
The Case of Haryana & the Importance of Institutionalizing Assessments in Grades 3, 5, and 8
In 2021, the Haryana government decided to have its State Board conduct examinations for grades 5 and 8 in all schools, irrespective of their board affiliation. Schools affiliated with other boards opposed this decision. It was also challenged in the High Court on the grounds of jurisdiction. The fate of these assessments remains undecided in Haryana, but this case can be an important guide on how states should implement them without conflict.
Having one board conducting the assessments in grades 3, 5 and 8 in all schools must be avoided. The ideal route would be to establish an independent and neutral State School Standards Authority and task it with implementing the assessments, much like the NEP 2020 outlines. While the SSSA should decide and own the design of the assessments, it could further outsource the actual conducting of assessments to an expert organization like a board. Lastly, private schools and parents must be active participants in the decision-making process from the beginning to allow clarity and consensus building around the assessments.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the NEP recommends Key-Stage Assessments (KSAs) in government and private schools in grades 3, 5 and 8. The same has been corrected.
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The EDge Editorial Team
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