By Zaheer Abbas
Schools are the settings where a state employs a specific curriculum. The curriculum is set basically to attain a number of objectives targeted by a state. In schools, different assessments of a specific course are conducted to evaluate whether the curriculum of that specific course has been implemented or not. In Pakistan, most of the public assessments of the schools curriculums are carried out at the end of each course, that is, annually. This paper discusses these assessments, that is, how these assessments are carried out and what are a few factors which have made these assessments to a large extent unreliable and inconsistent.
Most of the public assessments in Pakistan are summative in nature. Summative assessments are the assessments which are carried out usually at the end of a specific course/subject. These assessments evaluate students’ understanding of subject matter on the basis of paper-pencil tests. From grade-IX to graduation levels, these assessments are carried out by Secondary Schools Certificate (SSC) examination boards while elementary level examinations are either held at district levels or even at individual schools levels.
An overview of the examination papers revealed that in most of these examination papers, at schools, college and even at university levels, students are evaluated on route-learning based questions. The questions developed in the examinations papers evaluate students’ memory regarding factual knowledge. The questions seldom assess students’ analytical and critical thinking skills. These questions explore students’ lower cognitive skills, that is, remembering, recalling, stating or describing subject matter. Such types of questions are easily answered by the students who are good at reproducing subject matter. Ultimately, these students score higher in these summative examinations and even get the highest scores.
These summative examinations, which are based on exploring the factual knowledge of students, lead schools towards examination-oriented instruction. Teachers who have rich experience of such examinations prepare students for summative assessments in an easier way. They know that these examinations mostly repeat questions after different number of years; therefore, they develop “model papers” and “guess papers” along with the “guides” which contain answers of the papers. These readymade papers are, then, sold in bookshops for the “ease” of students. In schools and out of schools (in coaching/tuition centres), students are guided to rote these readymade solved papers and get good grades. As a result, the whole instruction is carried out just for testing as a replacement for learning. In other words, it is this examination which strengthens such teaching strategies that satisfy rote-learning. In a condition where examinations are structured just to explore students’ memorization and the instruction is carried out only to promote rote-learning, how is it possible that our students excel others in different national and international standardized assessments and other competitive examinations. As standardized tests evaluate higher ordered cognitive skills, therefore, a rote-learner may not be able to attempt the tests. It might be the reason that our students of elementary classes are not able to read a sentence of Urdu and English and solve basic arithmetic questions developed by different national assessments systems, that is, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) and National Education Assessment System (NEAS).
To develop the overall instruction and improve the summative assessments, different factors can be kept in consideration. In the first place, the experts who develop examination papers must be trained so that they include upper levels of cognitions (developed by Bloom in his Taxonomy) in exam papers, that is, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and even creation. After all, these practitioners should also be trained to employ different statistical measures to explore other characteristics of these examination papers, for instance, internal consistency, face and content validity, reliability and so on. Furthermore, marking criteria should also be developed before marking the papers. For instance, a comprehensive key can be developed for both objective and subjective type questions. These measures, ultimately, will not only improve the summative examinations but also help to improve the classroom instruction. Hence, it can be hoped that schools will not merely produce the good reproducers rather the best knowledge creators.