ROUTINES THAT YIELD NOTHING
Stringent routines are generally thought to be a successful technique for yielding favorable results. However, among many other routines, one that is not yielding any dividends so far is the administration of monthly tests in government schools for classes above grade 3. These tests are conducted by the District Teacher Educators (DTE) in each school on the directions of Directorate of Staff Development (DSD) and are a broader initiative of Punjab Education Roadmap. Tests aim to gauge the performance of both teachers and students for the previous month. While the test has gradually improved over time, it is still a poor tool to assess students’ and teachers’ progress because of various inadequacies pertaining to its content, administration and evaluation.
Firstly, the tests fall victim to the shortsighted mindset of our policy makers; which is to have over ambitious goals without any proper strategies and plans in mind. At first glance, the content of the tests looks reasonable as most of the questions are applicative or analytical. There are few knowledge based questions – the type that require little more than rote learning – which is a good thing as students are challenged to think and understand, rather than simply memorize. However, when the test is contextualized and analyzed, keeping in view the setting where it is administered, a different picture emerges. Poor conditions of government schools and low quality of teachers are largely ignored, while tests are administered regularly with the hope that they will bring improvement in other areas, i.e., the teacher quality, examination scores and school environment. Further, while the content of the tests has improved, actual student learning remains unaffected as the test is aimed at measuring concepts and technique which students were never adequately taught to begin with. As teachers spend very little time present in class, let alone in teaching concepts, students lack an understanding of the SLOs (Student Learning Outcomes given in the national curriculum) which the tests are based on. These factors, along with the change of the medium of testing to English, all have a compounding effect on the students’ inability to perform well in the monthly DTE examinations.
Secondly, even if the test was an effective tool to gauge performance, the way it is administered is still very problematic. Although it is a responsibility of DTEs to visit schools and administer tests, this is usually not the case. Instead, they hand them over to the teachers of the respective classes and ask them to conduct the tests, while they sit in the principal’s room for some snacks, tea and chit-chat. Meanwhile, the teachers know that students are unable do the test independently, so they give them the correct answers to save their own skins. Even in the circumstances where the DTE invigilates the test by himself (which is rare), the teachers still find ways to cheat. In one school, teachers had developed a code by which they told their students the correct answers even in the presence of the DTE. In some other cases, I came across schools that would get the monthly exam from their friends/peers in other schools where the exam had already been administered, since the same exam is conducted in different schools within a cluster on different days. Such cases show that the results that come out of this testing exercise are forged and fabricated and the inferences drawn from such data should be done cautiously, keeping these limitations in mind.
In addition to issues surrounding administration of the test, there are problems related to the evaluation processes of the tests, which tend to distort the true depiction of child learning. Usually, after the tests are conducted in a particular school, they are given to a different school in the cluster for checking. On some occasions, the DTE himself hands over the test to the other school and, on other occasions, he asks the school’s headmaster to send it to a specified school. In the first case, the school teachers will usually seek out the school that is evaluating their tests, get the tests back, check it themselves (unfairly by erasing wrong answers and writing correct ones) and send them back to the evaluating school. In the second case, where the DTE asks the school headmaster to send the exams to a given school, the headmaster gives the exam back to the students (after the DTE leaves the school premises), so that they may correct their answers. After this little exercise, the exams are sent to the given school. If both things do not work, teachers are expected to be lenient while checking exams as their courtesy will be reciprocated by their colleagues.
After all this is done and the results are compiled, the lists of marks are sent to the DTE and a copy is pasted in the school. Teachers are seldom given positive feedback on how to improve things and the ways by which student’s mistakes can be curtailed. Instead, they are threatened and told that if results are poor, they are answerable and strict punishments can be levied against them. This further encourages teachers to find more and more ways to cheat and, knowing they can get away with it, they do it more frequently.
In reality, the teachers and students are both aware of the issues surrounding administration and evaluation of the tests and how unreliable the results are. Meanwhile, the DTEs are concerned only with conducting the exams and sending the results to the authorities, how transparently all of this is done is not their headache. They don’t bother because they are never monitored and are seldom held accountable. Unfortunately, during this entire futile process, lot of time and resources are wasted. Generally, one complete day is wasted when the test is conducted and two more days are lost in checking the tests and compiling the report (teachers think of this as an added burden and they do the task of checking tests and compilation of reports during class time). In addition to the waste of three complete days, it also costs the department a lot to print the tests and analyze the reports monthly. All in all, the way in which monthly tests are currently conducted, they are just a waste of valuable resources and time, taking a toll on department resources, teachers’ time and students’ achievement.
Taha Mashhood works for Teach for Pakistan and is a Research Assistant at Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives