Large-scale assessments, such as National Achievement Survey (NAS) and the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), are conducted by a large number of educators and students. Effective conduction of these assessments requires a high degree of engagement from all its participants. However, it has been observed that due to the widespread lack of awareness about its intent and content, involvement among participants is superficial and perfunctory. This severely hampers the effectiveness of such exercises. Here is an attempt to demystify large-scale assessments to all its stakeholders like administrators, teachers, students and parents.
Board examinations are the culmination of the entire learning process that unfolds during the years in a school. These late-stage assessments entangle students, much of which is not justified. The outcome of the board examinations is not just the measure of a student’s learning and performance, it speaks of the effectiveness of the education process during his or her years in school.
Even more importantly, this revelation comes very late in the day – too late. To ensure the effectiveness of school education, early and periodic assessment must be designed not only for students but also for the entire education process. Such assessments, if performed duly, provide a view of the quality of the education process, at a stage when interventions and corrective measures can be taken systematically if required. Large-scale assessments are a mechanism, which helps the education system introspect its own health and effectiveness. In the country, several such assessments are conducted at the national and the state level.
The focus of the national-level assessments is on reporting and tracking long-term trends across states, locations (urban or rural), cycles of administration, content and skill areas for each subject regarding learning outcomes. State-level assessments help in providing evidence for the performance of teachers, administrators and schools in relation to established learning outcomes.
They also help in diagnosing strengths and weaknesses among students regarding certain content or skill areas required for a subject. These diagnoses can be used in making appropriate changes in the teaching and learning process. NAS is conducted by National Council Educational Research and Training annually at the national level by taking a representative sample of schools from all the districts and government-aided schools for Class 3, 5, 8 and 10, in Languages, Environmental Science, Science, Social Science and Mathematics. ASER is one of the largest citizen-led, household assessment in the world conducted by Pratham with children of 6 to 14 years for literacy and numeracy content domains. In addition to this, there are a set of state-level and district-level assessments conducted to evaluate independently state accountability plans and checking what is working best in each state. In Karnataka, census-based state achievement survey is conducted annually by Karnataka School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Council for Class 4 to 10 students.
Large-scale assessments are administered to a large number of students in a district, state or country —a representative sample of students is selected for administration. The primary purpose of such assessments is to ensure that the inputs (teaching and learning resources and methods, school facilities, curriculum, programmes, etc.) lead to right outputs (students’ performance and outcomes). Since such tests are administered to a large number of students, multiple choice questions make it amenable for automatic evaluation.
These tests are administered at major transition points when a student moves from one level of schooling to another. This helps in determining student‘s learning levels and identifying appropriate remedial intervention. These are standardised tests with uniformity in content, questions, procedure in scoring, administering and interpreting test results. They are conducted annually to obtain information on current achievement levels of students so as to monitor changes in future.
Well-designed and properly used large-scale assessments provide data about a school’s education programme outcomes. This can assist policymakers, administrators, schools and teachers in ensuring that students are offered what they need to meet established learning outcomes and to make appropriate improvements in teaching, curriculum and other programmes. Therefore, it is important to regularly disseminate data and related information from large-scale assessments to relevant stakeholders to gain their understanding, participation and support.
Teachers should be provided adequate time and assistance to interpret data for improving instruction. They should be given assistance in using teaching strategies that increase learning outcomes among students.
Most importantly, there should be a proper understanding of class-wise learning outcomes for all the stakeholders in the process of education.
(The author is with Azim Premji Foundation, Bengaluru)