Nearly a year ago I wrote about the promise of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) and Rajasthan’s thoughtful approach to improving its assessment system. The foundation has always looked upon CCE as a pedagogical tool meant to reform the teaching practices in the classroom rather than a point-in-time assessment exercise.
Encouraged by the results in Rajasthan, the foundation invested in three other states: Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The model was similar: design the right tools to allow teachers to conduct meaningful assessments in classrooms, train teachers to leverage assessments to identify children’s learning levels/gap areas and remediation techniques, and provide field support to teachers as they introduce these tools in their classrooms. This translates to very different content for every state, each with its unique educational environment and starting points: Jharkhand follows a very scripted, lesson plan-like approach to assessments, Himachal has a very teacher-driven model with several class-based tools like assessments checklists and workbooks, and Gujarat is strengthening its text book-integrated CCE model with more supplementary material and field support for teachers. However, in all cases, the focus has remained sharply on actionable information leading to better teaching and learning in classrooms. Many of us in the education sector waited anxiously for improvement in children’s learning level outcomes following the introduction of these assessment reforms in the 2013-2014 academic year.
Despite the variation of the states’ models and starting points, the results were positive across the board. Third party assessments showed a 10 to 20 percent improvement over baseline compared to a carefully selected control group. Why is this remarkable? This light touch program is in its first year and is working with the same set of variables- government school teachers, essentially the same curriculum and textbooks, and the same children. We’re still collecting data to attribute the impact to specific program components, but the effect of the assessments is evident in anecdotal feedback from the field.
What seems to be working is quite simple:
1. Curricular objectives have never been so clear. It is basic, but in our textbooks, curriculum frameworks, guidebooks and trainings, we have never actually communicated to the teachers what they are supposed to teach. Until now.
2. Teachers are not expected to do more record-keeping or administrative work for assessments, rather they are receiving tools to make their day to day jobs easier. Powerful formative assessments help teachers look beyond a child’s test score to understand what concepts the student knows, what needs work and how the teacher can assist the child in the most effective way.
3. Post-training field support for teachers provides essential, ongoing learning opportunities. Such a paradigm shift in classroom teaching practices requires significant teacher support and one-time trainings are not enough. Field support and demonstrations are important to help teachers overcome their initial hesitation and challenges. Learning Links Foundation, a non-profit with extensive expertise in assessments and a long history collaborating with state governments to build capacity of teachers and education department officials, has been an important part of progress. Their specially trained field staff provide one day of field support per school every week in the first year of the program.
The programs above are reaching out to nearly 100,000 children in approximately 500 government-run schools in these states. There is keen interest from all of these regions to scale these programs throughout their entire state. At the Dell family foundation, we believe that we are only beginning to break the age-old assessment practices in our classrooms, but the above lessons are simple and replicable enough for other school systems to start these journeys too.