May 15, 2021
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Reforming Assessment Practices In Pandemic-Era Education

Board exams can be replaced with interaction-based active learning that can be assessed throughout the year.

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Reforming Assessment Practices In Pandemic-Era Education
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Reforming Assessment Practices In Pandemic-Era Education

Assessment practices in the education system need to evolve as real world settings are changing. There is no ideal assessment practice given that the real world conditions are marked by their uncertainties, changeability and limitations. Hence, assessment practice needs to adapt to the real-time context in which it is situated. Taking into consideration, the present day catastrophe which is all-pervasive and governs most decisions that are taken by all stakeholders in this world, assessment practices have been inevitably impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This variable component of the real world setting has been highlighted by Bachman and Palmer as they say, “The setting in which assessment development takes place includes many uncertainties and conflicts and is constantly changing”.

Problematic Forms of Assessment

Educational assessment has been shifted to online mode where possible and “high-stakes testing” such as board exams have either been cancelled or postponed due to the raging pandemic. These board exams qualify as “summative assessment” as they are used for selection and certification purposes. The concept of “formative assessment” applies to the assessment practices focused on enhancing student learning. The previous assessment system in India called CCE (Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation) was an attempt emphasize formative assessment and de-emphasize summative assessment. However, CCE did an inefficient and at times, a counterproductive job at supporting student learning wherein real formative assessment practice in school became more about pleasing the teachers and problematic group projects which did not ensure equal participation by all students and activities which were more about artistic creativity than subject knowledge and critical analysis.

Now that the pandemic might be the new normal for at least some time to come, the viability and feasibility of high stakes summative exams such as board exams have been put to question. David Boud points out, “As presently operating, summative assessment acts as a device to inhibit many features of a learning society. It provides a mechanism of control exercised by those who are guardians of particular kinds of knowledge — teachers, educational institutions, professional bodies and occupational standards organisations — over those who are controlled by assessment — students, novices and junior employees. It too easily locates responsibility for making judgements in the hands of others and undermines learners’ ability to be effective through simultaneously disguising the criteria and standards of performance being upheld, while convincing them that their interests are being served by increasingly sophisticated assessment schemes.”

Interactive Learning

In the current scenario in Indian education, we have online classrooms which do not provide adequate space for interactive learning and peer learning. Craig Lambert writes for Harvard magazine, “Interactive pedagogy, for example, turns passive, note-taking students into active, de facto teachers who explain their ideas to each other and contend for their points of view.”  Interactive learning and peer learning are essential practices for “sustainable assessment”- a concept introduced by David Boud to denote the type of assessment which enables lifelong learning. Online classes on Zoom/Google meet do not give sufficient room for teacher-student and student-student discussion based learning and this is ultimately, detrimental for student learning. 

Incorporating technology-enabled learning that focuses on formative assessment throughout the year can be a more holistic and enriching alternative to summative assessment such as board exams. Such formative assessment should include “development of self-assessment” and “reflective assessment with peers”.

Active Learning as Assessment – The Way Forward

Instead of board exams, the pathway forward in Indian education system can be a formative assessment for active learning. Board exams can be replaced with interaction-based active learning that can be assessed throughout the year. Inactive learning, students are active enablers of their own learning instead of a didactic unidirectional mode where the teacher is the only transmitter of knowledge through monologues.

 As pointed out by Craig Lambert, active learning overthrows the “transfer of information” model of instruction, which casts the student as a dry sponge who passively absorbs facts and ideas from a teacher. Instead, active learning encapsulates an approach to learning wherein students are not passive information consumers but students simply learning from each other through discussion.

Professor Eric Mazur of Harvard University for instance points out that it is problematic if universities act merely as centres and sources for information. He advocates the idea that universities instead are centres of learning, which is essentially a social experience. This “learning as a social experience” is missing from the online teaching and learning practice in India today.

 (Manjima Misra is the author of two books: 'Indian Feminine Fury' and 'Unapologetically Mad'. She is pursuing an MA in English literature from University of Delhi and is also a distance learning student of English language teaching at University of St Andrews, Scotland)

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