The need for assessments

If parents and educationists can foster the right attitude towards the assessments mandated in schools, children may actually benefit. Here's all you need to know.

By Anusha Ram

The need for assessments

What are assessments?

Generally assessments fall under two categories – formative assessments and summative assessments.

Formative assessments are ongoing assessments that happen daily in the classroom based on the students’ in-class participation and performance on homework assignments, projects and in class-work. This type of continuous assessment allows the teacher to check her students’ understanding at any point in time and adjust her teaching as necessary.

Summative assessments are periodic assessments based on the tests and exams administered to the students. These help evaluate what the students have learnt thus far and if the teaching and learning goals have been successfully met.

Why assessments are necessary

Virginia Smedberg, a California based violin teacher, has the right attitude towards assessments. Every time she wants to test her students, she tells them, “I am not testing you. I am testing myself – to see how well I have taught you and if there is anything else I need to teach you, before I move you on to the next level.”

Assessments are necessary for the teacher to evaluate the gaps in the students’ learning and understanding, and review the lessons as needed before moving on to the next lesson.

Another reason for assessments is for use beyond the classroom. The marks scored in the exams are one of the primary ways for colleges and potential employers to evaluate a student’s competence. If a student has done well in his exams, then the evaluator can confidently assume that either the student is brilliant or that he is a hard worker – both necessary qualifications for the job at hand.

Thus the right kinds of assessments are very useful and necessary for the growth and future of any child.

What is wrong with assessments today?

The question today is not whether assessments are necessary, but whether we are administering the right kind of assessments. Unfortunately today’s assessments almost always test a student’s memory power and not necessarily her learning and understanding of concepts. It is not used to provide the student the much-needed assistance to enhance her learning.

The marks of tests and exams are instead used to compare and label students as ‘smart’ or ‘weak’. They have created an atmosphere of intense competition often resulting in stress and poor self-esteem in the child.

How can parents use the results of a test or exam to support their child?

When the child brings home his report card or test paper, a parent’s reaction to the child’s performance can either motivate the child to perform better the next time or can make him lose interest in studies. Here are some tips to help you motivate the child:

  1. If the child has not performed up to expectations, berating the child will not help
  2. If the child has performed well, compliment him for putting in the necessary effort
  3. It is best not to compare his marks with that of his classmates
  4. Sit down with the child and go over the test paper with him. Praise him when he has written an answer well or solved a difficult problem. If he has incorrectly answered a question try to understand why. It is probably one of these reasons:
  • He did not understand the concept - Give him the necessary help to learn
  • He made a careless mistake – Encourage him to be more careful the next time around
  • He did not read or understand the question properly – Encourage him to read the questions more carefully and ask the teacher for clarifications if necessary
  • Did not prepare sufficiently – Together come up with a plan that will make him spend his time more efficiently in preparing for his exams.

More important than marks, is the learning that happens in the child. Thus, instead of using tests and marks to label children, it is important for parents to support and encourage their children to learn from their mistakes and use this as an opportunity for the children to learn concepts that they may have missed. This way they will be better prepared to handle the next level of learning.

Parent Circle speaks to some educationists, and puts forward their points of view.

The ‘All Important Marks’ in board exams do not prove anything of worth

Says J Ramadhurai, educationist entrepreneur and past principal of a boarding school in Chennai:

“I don’t think that schools and boards have arrived at a satisfactory way of assessing a child as yet. I see mediocre children passing out with very good marks in the ICSE exams. Again, children with very good marks in the CBSE board fail in the first year of their medical college and are not able to move on to the second year.

I don’t think that absolute marks should be the criteria for anyone to assess a child’s intelligence. HR officials I interact with, take marks with a pinch of salt and ask me: How deft is the child in the subject? Is his project his own work or is it outsourced? Can he speak English reasonably well? How does he mingle with individuals and society? What is his emotional IQ like?

Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation or CCE (under CBSE) comes close to meeting this kind of criteria – but it is too idealistic. Many teachers I interact with do not understand how they need to evaluate the other aspects of a child, outside of academics. How will they assess a boy who is good at Bharatanatyam dance? They are unable to evaluate at times what is right before them. Many teachers (and principals) do not want to embrace change and try to develop methods for assessment. They are satisfied with their routines and feel that they have their hands full.

Very few teachers are interested in motivating their students. Only if they do this, can they truly learn about their students and assess them properly under CCE. Today, IB and Cambridge systems are better adapted to learning goals.”

Assessments should be adapted so that learning is properly imparted

A primary school teacher from PS Senior Secondary School, requesting anonymity says:

“Today, under the CCE system, we are trying to make children understand concepts. We (the students and us) are equally on a learning curve – but children are learning faster than us! They are not prejudiced or fixated like us. They enjoy different activities, and are widely participative. We see them performing, drawing, speaking, writing - all components of the same lesson - and enjoying the learning. We assess all of this and try to do it fairly. Such type of assessments will encourage creativity in middle school. Unfortunately, at the Plus 2 level, students are thrown back into the archaic system and they get confused by this sudden change.

I don’t think any child should be detained for having failed in his assessments. Every child is capable of learning and the system (and assessment) should adapt itself to see that learning is properly imparted.

Assessment systems should be age-appropriate to the child

By Lakshmi Gopinath, primary school teacher, Pupil Saveetha Eco School

Unfortunately we tend to impose our ‘adulthood’ on the innocent child with all its unrealistic expectations. This happens during assessments – but the good teachers try to stoop to the level of the child and become one with him, before assessing him. Every school has the flexibility to manage CCE in a suitable way. Teachers just have to learn a few tricks, and it can be done very easily and smoothly. Unfortunately many teachers think that such assessments involve a lot of work, and a lot of calculations that are time consuming.

Ideally a student-teacher ratio of 1: 20/25 is desirable. But even in a class of 40, the teacher can learn to assess students fairly. Within three months, she can get to know their capabilities.

In the primary classes, we assess for skills in easy, interesting, fun-loving ways, which need not necessarily involve any (cumbersome) writing!

For example, for 1st standard children, after an English lesson, there is role play. (Here we assess speaking skills.) If there is a lesson on kite flying, after the lesson, we ask “What happens to the kite?” We also play aloud CDs on the lesson. (Assess understanding and listening skills.)

We ask them to see the spelling in the text-book of the word ‘kite’ and come and write on the blackboard. (Assess writing skills). We recite poems and make the child repeat after us (Assess repetition skills). During group activities, we find different kinds of children. The sensorially- oriented run around the class and we don’t stop them. We ensure that everybody’s learning needs are satisfied and assess them in accordance with their learning skills. Homework is not needed till the 3rd standard.

Only around age 9, do children settle down in class, and learn to apply the knowledge they have learnt. They do not disturb the teacher unduly. By the time children are in the 6th and 7th, they are more mature, they learn faster, and apply satisfactorily whatever it is that they have learnt. Though such children are ready for routine ‘auditory’ learning, we still try to make it different for them – and assess them through their discussions, chart-making, project-making etc. By the time they are 11-12 years old they can grasp the ‘formal’ way of writing tests within the required time frame. Assessment at every stage has to be age-appropriate.

Even for projects, (in the higher classes) we are working out methods where children do it in groups and the teacher can gauge every child’s individual contribution. This way, we assess the actual work done by children.

To assess slow learners or children with particular disabilities fairly, schools need to get special educators. Only then will the assessment be fair. Many schools are moving towards this. I also believe that open book tests should be thrown open to all from time to time – and it will be particularly useful for slow learners.

CCE system of learning and assessment should be followed at the Plus 2

Shubha Rajagopalan, an 8th standard class teacher in the Shri Ram School in Gurgaon, and Math teacher for the higher classes says:

I believe that assessments should be done throughout the year with equal weightage for work done in class, oral interactions, and quality of homework. There should be weekly tests, from 6th standard onwards and no ‘lumping’ of studies as was done in the past. Our school follows the ISC board and we have moved towards this, much like the CCE of the CBSE board. But in the 10th, we have a board exam that follows the old pattern, complete with heavy-duty studying. The only option is that we can allow students who are weak in Math and Science to take up other lighter subjects in lieu of these two – in the 9th standard.

I personally feel that the CCE system or its equivalent should be followed by all boards for assessment right up to the 12th standard. Today, my daughter, who is studying for Plus 2 exams under CBSE, is totally stressed out, after being stress-free in the 10th. There is such a huge (and needless) jump. There is no logic for the old system of assessments to prevail – even if one needs to appear for the competitive exams.

Competitive exams have their own methodology in terms of how subjects have to be approached, which is completely different anyway, from the Plus 2 evaluation systems.

In fact, if children are doing Plus 2 under the CCE, they will be able to take the different approaches to prepare for the competitive exams. Today they are forced to cram ‘mindlessly’ for every type of exam. They are running madly to tuition centres to learn to crack the board and competitive exams. The CCE type of assessment will be even more beneficial for those who intend taking up other courses like arts, economics etc.