Assessments: CCE or a Single High Stakes Exam

4 Dec

Can one go back from the CCE to a single exam?

You cannot go back to the past. It is gone and we have to plan for a smarter future. Even in the class X assessment system, the students who met the minister may want to go back, but times have changed. Having bemoaned the loss of the sturdy yet simple Class X examination, it still comes as a surprise to me when there are reports of students who have asked for it to be restored.

The old system had its merits and problems. It’s greatest advantage was its simplicity. A strong reason to reinstate it is that the old Class X exam was an excellent base line test for higher education. Marking the culmination of ten years of primary, middle and secondary education, it tested for the basics in a way that was equitable and accessible. The fairness of the exam had been tested and improved upon year upon year. Operationally it was no mean feat – tens of thousands of papers across five subjects are ferried across the nation after having been anonymised, checked to a standard, verified and then marks allocated to the right student. The process needed to be error free.

But the stakes were too high.

The future of the students depended upon this one exam. This would determine whether they would have access to subjects of their choice or would be relegated to the boondocks populated by ‘non-academic’ students. This was an act of judgement that could cost a student every hope they had of aspiring to be a doctor or and engineer, a computer scientist or an inventor. A slip here – a bad day, a fever or simple panic and the student knew that they had very likely consigned themselves to a different kind of life. In the Indian system, sadly, an Arts student can never apply to be a doctor, nor a commerce student change tracks to become a bio-physicist – for example.

The high stakes had to go. The pressure was building up on a whole generation in ways that were unsuited to their age. Parental pressure, tuition culture, grade inflation and mindless rote learning were some of the evils that emanated from that single exam system.

In an act reminiscent of the story of the monkey who sliced the king’s nose off when charged with guarding the king, the exam itself was scrapped. The stakes needed to be lowered, the incentives needed to be changed – why scrap the exam then?

Students, it seems are clamouring to have these exams back. I’d be cautious about that too. These were not necessarily representative of the entire education population, nor of all students. This was an interaction where they shared their personal views, no more. For one, the students seem to hate the CCE (continuous and comprehensive evaluation) system. In this very forum, on this blog we have shared the student voice with very valid arguments against the CCE. I too have stood against the CCE – as implemented. Not as designed. The idea and the design of the CCE are in keeping with the times. The students have been subject to a version of the CCE by a teacher cadre that has received little training or support in the implementation. It is up to the school and its teachers to figure out how best to make it work with little sight of the goals and the design principles of such a system. It is inevitably a confused implementation that is highly unlikely to appeal to either students, parents or teachers.

The CCE has its merits too. It gives students many chances to get it right. Each test, each project, each piece of work in their notebooks now earns them some value towards their grade. This not only gives schools a chance to customise according to the needs of the students and the local context, but also gives better grades to those who perform consistently. Most importantly, it does not put all the pressure on the three hours of the examination system held at the end of the academic year in an unfamiliar location. It has moved the goal posts from being an exercise in mere rote learning to much more – if implemented well. It therefore gives the education system a chance to keep up with the times and reward students for demonstrating  21st century skills of collaboration etc.

Does it actually do that? Not yet, but it can.

It is sad if poor implementation of a good idea forces one to regress to a solution that had been operationalised well but was inappropriate for the times. The solution now is not to revert to the old system – that solves nothing. The solution now is to find a path using all the pieces to hand to engineer a solution that works to assess student performance fairly in ways that test for consistency, growth, ability, competences and knowledge.

India is a country that has traditionally favoured the middle path. Here, happily, the middle path is available easily. It may not be a bad idea to restore the national class ten exams AND reduce the stakes. Design smarter assessments including examinations and CCE. The final score may include the results of the national exam but merely as a component of the overall two year score as is currently designed. Upgrade the CCE to be meaningful and efficient. Retain grades, but create a formula that works to the goals of testing and assessment for that level (which really cannot be much more than baseline and competence mapping for encouraging personalised learning plans). Design a system that will benefit millions in a generation to identify their potential and work to their aspirations for the future – not the past.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own. on November 21, 2014, 6:49 pm IST in EduCable | Edit Page, HRD ministry, Smriti Irani | TOI


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