IPL style Assessments

26 Jun

Just yesterday, browsing Facebook, I came across this update that thought it was funny. No, I am not losing my sense of humor… it was funny in its own way. But as with most funny things, there was a grain of truth in it. It spoke of exams being run like the IPL.

If examinations were run like the IPL, there would be cheerleaders for every major achievement, it started. Yes, of course there should be. For every examination or test, big or small, every achievement – our students need to be encouraged and cheered on their way. Of course, cheerleading is a skill, as sport like any other, and the cheering on could be done in different ways.  It would be great if schools  did something  fun for each age group and learning level to celebrate achievement. It is clearly time to move on from examinations being about stress and fear to being a celebration of learning. As the entry said – cheer us on and then see how well our students do! I believe this will happen – all trainers know the power of positive reinforcement.

They also asked for power play. This may already be happening. What else can explain the grade inflation we see with 99% to 100% scores in class 12 examinations.  It is not just that our students are smarter than before or that they are better prepared than previous generations. It is also true that the range of examinations is more predictable (thus helping them prepare better) and the examinations are more objective – meaning that they have many more short answers and multiple choice questions. This has certainly contributed to improved grades. Questions often do not require creativity, analysis or reflection – all tools of a slower paced game. The new objective style of questioning is pure powerplay – hit for maximizing scores.

Free hits were also demanded. Where you cannot be declared out unless you are too slow or unaware of your context and get run out. That indeed should be the way of most classrooms and assessments. This is what we mean by learning without fear. The way of learning is the path of exploration. There are rules, guides, practice, effort, umpires and captains.. But the batsman is the learner who charts a path without fear of getting caught. Let the learning paths explore new bounds. The much abused CCE assessment system is an attempt to do just that – free hits, do your best.

Strategic time-outs in the middle of the match were also demanded –  A chance for the coach to give new directions during an examination. Why ever not? If the examination is designed intelligently and tests for deep knowledge and individual application, scores on the individual’s approach and penalizes copying, then certainly a coaching intervention can only help. The exam coach of course cannot confuse this with the powerplay – no answering questions! But the analytic reflective and contextual parts of examinations certainly advance learning faster than any rote learning.

Finally, discussion time was demanded. This too I support. Today examinations are conducted under forced silences. Cheating is rampant and has gone so far that entire groups of schools are accused of shoring up their results this way with the collusion of their teachers. Apart from the fact that this vitiates the atmosphere of a school, it is also a very expensive process to police. The cost is terribly high particularly in board examinations. Creating such a police state is quite stressful for all parties involved. Intelligent design of question papers and marking mechanisms would be required, of course, if we were to allow discussions during examinations. More interestingly, it is quite possible that once discussions are allowed, cheating may actually reduce. Discussions (when designed for and allowed), or cheating (when disallowed) actually are a leveling mechanism, transferring scores from the more able to the less able. Cheating, even if not discussion based, takes a lot of ingenuity and effort, and is time consuming. Competitive forces would naturally be focused on winning their game, and would seek to answer without wasting time on discussions that only improve other people’s scores and reduce the gap. Perversely, it is possible, that allowing discussions in an examination may actually reduce such discussions. Of course, smart examiners are required to design questions in such a way that no last minute discussions will help.

The way of the IPL is not half bad – short sharp bursts of demonstrating learning and skills, intense competition and collaboration. We may even end up working smarter to improve ourselves.

This article was published in Times of India Blogs on May 30, 2012 linked here.


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