To test or not to test?

CONFUSION REIGNS

EXAMINATION WOES  A large number of Class X students took the Board exam this year.

Not many people would disagree with the need to de-stress school children and reduce their academic burden, so as to cultivate their unknown talents and give wings to their creative skills.

But an initiative essentially aimed at pulling students out of the ‘vicious’ academic quagmire and steering them on the path of a stress-free learning atmosphere has only created confusion, posing more questions than it promised to answer.

A living example is the scheme of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to make its Class X Board exam optional for students and bring in Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE), a rigorous method of assessing their performance round the academic year.

While proponents swear that the above measures will root out the evils of our educational system, cynics aren’t very sure.

Many students, teachers, and parents have found fault with the method, grumbling about what they describe as absence of clear guidelines, killing the opportunities of exposure, and ambiguities in grading learners.

Vaishali J is a student of Class X at the Rashtrotthan Vidya Kendra, Thanisandra. Without mincing words, Vaishali says she would have opted out of the ongoing Board exams given half a chance.

“Our school does not have Classes XI and XII. So, I cannot opt out of the exam even if I want to. For us, a Board exam means loads of stress. From parents to teachers to peers, everybody is after us, ‘enlightening’ us about the importance of this exam,” Vaishali gripes.

Sanketh Manvi, another student who is writing the exam because he had no other choice, agrees. “When I first came to know of the optional exam scheme, I exclaimed ‘wow!’ Every day in the run-up to the exams, I wished I could opt out,” he says.

But another Class X student Apoorva opposes the optional exam move. In her view, Board exams are necessary to expose students to varied forms of taking a test.
“We have to choose between the Board exam and the school-based test. A Board exam is always better as it exposes our skills. In contrast, a school-based exam is much less likely to give us the desired exposure,” Apoorva notes.

Sunil Kumar Manvi, Sanketh’s father and a professor of computer networking, also thinks students should be tested by an ‘external agency’.  “The (optional exam) scheme has many unanswered questions. For example, it is unclear how a student can apply to a non-CBSE college when he/she does not have any exact scores in Class X. It certainly puts such students at a disadvantage. It’s strange that a student with 99 marks is equal to one who has scored 90. By introducing the vague grading system, we are unsure how to mark a student’s percentage,” Manvi says.

Dr Venkataswamy, another parent, is unhappy with the new weightage of marks in Class X. “Out of 80 marks in a subject in the Board exam, 40 will be awarded by the school on the basis of the CCE score. But this system is not uniform across all schools. This is in addition to the 20 marks awarded by way of assessments. Some schools are strict in awarding the marks, but most simply rush through,” he protests.
The scheme has also failed to cut ice with teachers. As said by Prem Kumar G P, physics teacher of Vani Vilas School, Magadi Road, Board exams are ‘crucial’ to sustain students’ competitive spirit.

“Board exams require a completely different approach. They keep up the enthusiasm among the students,” Kumar says.

But Kumar has a revelation to make. In the Vani Vilas School which also has Classes XI and XII, as many as 20 out of 35 Class X students chose not to write the exam. “Those who have opted out feel that the scheme helps them focus on Class XII. They are averse to adding stress by writing the Class X exam,” Kumar adds.

Interestingly, however, an overwhelming majority of students are taking the ongoing exam. According to Nagaraju N, Director of CBSE South Zone, 13,087 students are appearing for the exam in Karnataka, about 10 per cent less than last year. Figures for Bangalore are not available.  

According to Manjula S, Vice Principal and Director of Academics, Rashtrotthana Vidya Kendra, this is because not many CBSE schools in the State have Classes XI and XII. “So, a vast majority of students actually have no option but to appear for the exam,” she reasons.

This also explains CBSE’s so-called ‘de-stressing mantra’ which appears at effectively relieving the burden of only a handful of students, leaving out the overwhelming lot.

In the opinion of Vasantha Kumar M S, an English teacher, the scheme would have been really worthwhile had it been implemented across all Boards. “A tricky road lies ahead for students who have opted out of the exam. The college where they would apply can deny admission citing ambiguity in their score,” he says.

CCE, too, has received many brickbats. While students complain that it keeps their performance under non-stop scrutiny, teachers are unhappy that it ‘inconveniences’ them.

“Under CCE, a student’s small mistake could prove dangerous. There is little scope for making progress later if we fall short initially. Besides, a student who has no interest in sports or physical education can do little and will have to push on. We should be given full liberty in choosing the topics under non-scholastic assessment,” Vaishali says.

According to Sanketh, CCE could be ‘deadly’ for students who do not submit their assignments on time. Terming it a big burden, Apoorva says she feels more tension. Also, discrepancy in awarding the grades has left students discontented. “I would get marks even if I don’t deserve them because my school wants better results,” Apoorva complains.

According to her, one of her friends has already got the marks under the Summative Assessment because her school wants to shore up its reputation.

Manjula S says CCE has made the job of teachers more difficult. “For lack of clear instructions, the onus lies completely on teachers. We don’t have set parameters to evaluate the students. Lack of proper training is another concern. Also, the system consumes a lot of time as we have to regularly update students’ portfolios and anecdotal records. Despite their crucial role in CCE, parents have not been properly informed,” she says.

Kumar says CCE puts weak students in a lot of tension. “Some schools force them to take more exams. If students don’t perform, teachers feel insecure.”

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