By Nitya Sundaram
There have always been arguments for and against tests and exams; a debate that goes on and on with no end in sight. So, ultimately, what is the validity of assessments? A few examples and considerations will throw some light.
Validity of Assessments:
Let us say, a school had a cyclical way of teaching when one period of time would be dedicated to learning a major chunk of topics and at the end of it, an assessment would be held. In such a situation what can happen? Here is an example. Students were not told that it was their assessment. In the first cycle, the students of a primary class did not do too well in Math. The teacher had taught them ‘place values’. In the second cycle, the teacher went ahead with the next few topics like ‘operations’, for which ‘place value’ was a pre-requisite. Naturally, their basics of cycle one became stronger because the teacher ran through those topics once more.
At the end of two cycles, the end of term report card had to be generated. A set system would want the marks and grades of cycle one and 2 to be reported. The teacher gathered the marks and students’ performance were varied with ‘Excellent’ in ‘operations’ and ‘Needs Improvement’ in ‘place value’. How can a student weak in ‘place values’ be good with operations like additions and subtractions? It did not make sense. If the system were flexible, she would be allowed to report on the best performance of the students even if it is at the end of cycle 2.
The board examination or annual examination does exactly that; reporting the performance, which should have been strengthened after several revisions and practices. Very often that is not the case. The student in the primary did not know it was assessment, while the secondary students knew that it was an examination. The very knowledge of it seems somehow to compromise their proficiency. Instead of catching them do right, they catch them doing wrong.
The other perspective is the issue of teaching to test. Just because we want good performance we put the student through a series of mock tests, called ‘revision’, on the same lines as the examinations. In the primary, the student did ‘concept revision’; while in the secondary, the student does tests revision. Therefore, all that gives the joy of learning and the extra ideas of concepts are left out because they are not tested. No wonder our examination system becomes a farce.
While assessment is necessary, the focus should be right. The system should give it the right place, in the correct hierarchy. It should not be overemphasized nor should it be brushed under the carpet. Too much importance will kill learning and too little of it will lead to laziness. Striking the right balance, allowing students to select and understand their own best performance will instill the idea of hard work and excellence.