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Time to Assess More, Not Less

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By Roli S
As the Covid-19 impact deepens on every area of life, continuation of quality education for children residing in every city and village of our country becomes a very challenging task. These unprecedented circumstances require some extraordinary planning by all the stakeholders connected with the education of children in India.

The current cancellation of the board examinations is indication enough that, in future, there may arise situations where some uncommon decisions may have to be taken. Therefore, in the new academic sessions, all the school administrations must plan sufficiently in advance with regard to the approaches they adopt to impart learning and assess students fairly when schools may be physically closed and continue to run online. Even if the schools reopen, the experiences will be far from normal for some time to come.

Schools must not only plan for the academic assessment next year, but also establish protocols through which they can gather additionally critical information about students. A wider spectrum of data can better guide principals, teachers, and families in fulfilling students’ needs in the coming school year.

I think, during these uncertain times, parents, educators, administrators, and policymakers will need more information on how students across grades are doing and being served, not less. In the case of a school being run online it is essential that the data gathered captures multiple aspects of student well-being, including social-emotional needs, engagement, and conditions in which students are learning so that families, teachers, local and state authorities can be responsive to their needs. This includes even those who living in the remote villages of India.

In the future, it will become very crucial to access comparable data to look across schools and student groups to better understand the overall academic performance of children throughout the country. Schools and policymakers must adapt and be responsive to India’s new reality and create a plan to promote new ways of assessments—not eliminate them. Schools must conduct assessments of their students in such a way that provides actionable information for administrators and policymakers who need the data to allocate resources that will support the educational needs of every child.

An important step authorities can take is to support schools in developing a coherent and streamlined assessment strategy this coming academic session and for the years to come by providing them with the tools needed to review the assessments and tests that they have traditionally administered to students, that they understand the purpose of each type of assessment, and how the data from these are to be used to benefit students.

What I have gathered from talking to parents, teachers and following the education news of our country is that the transitioning to online learning has been challenging. Many students, especially those who are living in small towns and villages of India, seemingly disappeared from the scene of learning, whether by not completing assignments or failing to respond to communications from the school. While some of these students were absent because of lack of internet access, others were no longer connecting with school for other reasons, such as behavioral and environmental challenges or other learning hurdles. With many students no longer able to receive needed education in person, it is critical for schools to reach out and engage with them and their families through other avenues.

Carrying out unit tests and annual examination in their old form is likely not to happen in the near future. That is why, starting now, stakeholders must work to revamp and redesign and innovate on the way assessments are conducted in schools across India.

How can the assessment keeping in mind the digital and connectivity equity concerns be administered under different scenarios, including at home, at school, or virtually at an off-site location? How must the assessments be adjusted to accommodate the needs of students with special needs, students of vernacular medium and socially disadvantaged ones? These are some of the questions that come to my mind.

Covid-19 has shaken the foundation of many systems, the education system included. At this time, leaders, teachers, and parents need a broad array of information about their students in order to begin educational recovery. Supporting local governments in creating streamlined assessments that look at a wide range of student factors, as well as identifying how the annual assessments can be adjusted to collect needed information about student performance, is by far the most important work stakeholders can undertake, if schools are ever to close the historic learning gaps that Covid-19 may have created.

Before students can learn, their well-being, engagement, and conditions for learning must be addressed, and in order to do so, schools must collect these data to inform how they should respond to the challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will not be an easy undertaking, but it is necessary to address the longstanding inequities borne by vulnerable and less privileged students of our country.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer,
Author, School Reviewer based in Thane)