Continuous and comprehensive evaluation: An opportunity to pair required assessments with improved teaching

There are a number of answers to the question of why it’s so difficult to improve teaching practices in India, but one fundamental stumbling block is our existing evaluation framework. The rigid demands of end-of-term examinations that reward rote memorization and surface-level understanding rather than higher-level comprehension of concepts have been slow to shift. As a consequence, attempts to establish innovative and progressive pedagogical practices have struggled to take hold.

Passed in 2009, India’s Right to Education Act (RTE), includes a promising mechanism for improving pedagogical practice; the mandatory introduction of continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE). The first and the boldest expression of the government’s intent to introduce the concept of quality learning into school education, CCE seeks to replace year-end examinations with a series of ongoing assessments that provide teachers with continuous insights into students’ needs, throughout the school year. The act also requires that the schools maintain a complete record of every child during the years of elementary education (grades 1-8).

Continuous and comprehensive evaluation: The promise of higher quality teaching; the challenge of implementation

In terms of improving teaching practices, CCE has promise. In the hands of teachers who know how to apply them, both data generated by formative assessments, and longitudinal student data can be incredibly powerful tools for improving student’s learning. However, such gains depend on effective implementation of the CCE mandate, and in many states the implementation challenges can be overwhelming.

The education departments lack technical, operational and implementation expertise to put the CCE mandate into effective practice. Spurred by legal deadlines[1], many are rushing to put in place ad-hoc solutions, such as new report cards or quick orientations for teachers. This focus on the short term race to fulfill requirements, however, poses a severe risk that states will miss a rare opportunity: To design and implement meaningful child-level evaluations that provide teachers with the data and insights they need to drive a qualitatively different level of learning in their classrooms.

Rather than rush ahead toward legalistic compliance with the letter of RTE’s evaluation mandate, other states should follow these states’ more deliberative approach to using assessments as a tool to improve teacher-student interactions and results.

Rajasthan: A case study in how to put continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) to work as tool for better teaching

Rajasthan and a handful of other states offer a potential case study in how to do things right. Over the last four years and in partnership with Bodh Shiksha Samiti, Rajasthan has taken a thoughtful approach in the design and scale-up of its assessment system, and has had several small but significant wins. Third-party assessments in pilot schools showed learning level improvements as high as 25-30 percent, providing evidence of the new assessment system’s impact on children’s academic outcomes. Meanwhile, Rajasthan has also updated and improved textbooks to better support CCE, and to foster a more child-centered learning environment that supports mastery of concepts rather than simple memorization.

What distinguishes Rajasthan’s approach to CCE from the approach taken by other states? At a high level, three key factors stand out.

  1. The state has explicitly treated CCE as a pedagogical tool, and not just an evaluation system. The true benefit of ongoing evaluation is that it allows educators to understand – and address – emerging gaps in learning as they happen. Rajasthan has fully grasped this and has sought to address it by fundamentally reforming school processes and overall educational management.
  2. Despite immense pressure for taking the CCE solution to all schools in the state, Rajasthan has adopted a very careful pilot-based approach for scaling reforms up slowly. The proposed approach is phased at the school level, with focus on building training capacities before a statewide scale up is attempted.
  3. Rajasthan has applied single-minded focus to moving from pilot to scale. Effective implementation of such a comprehensive new system of ongoing evaluation depends on a complex change process, and the scale of a large state like Rajasthan (geographically India’s largest, with a population of roughly 70 million and more than 50,000 primary schools) adds to the complexity. Critically, Rajasthan has focused on understanding and enabling capacities (especially in terms of educator skills) that need to be addressed before expansion can be successful. Rajasthan has adopted a multipronged strategy to address this need, aligning DIET[2] trainers, and building teacher training and problem solving capacities at the district level. It has also initiated a major revamp of state school supervision and monitoring systems to ensure quality during scale-up.

Although the journey has just begun for Rajasthan, the ingredients for success are in place. The state’s pilot shows the potential for real gains where it matters most: in children’s learning levels. A handful of other states are on a similar path. Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Gujarat have partnered with Delhi-based Learning Links Foundation to strengthen their CCE models. The efforts in these states range from complete redesign of CCE to more targeted focus on key implementation challenges.

Rather than rush ahead toward legalistic compliance with the letter of RTE’s evaluation mandate, other states should follow these states’ more deliberative approach to using assessments as a tool to improve teacher-student interactions and results.

[1] Deadlines vary by state.

[2] District Institute of Education and Training