Assessments are critical to learning, accountability and school improvement

This is my latest livemint column

It can be nobody’s case that our public schools are doing well. Parents are voting with their feet, moving their kids to private schools even if those come at a significantly higher cost. This is not a column on the ‘public vs private’ debate in education. This is about assessment, reflecting on a recent column by Azim Premji Foundation’s Anurag Behar in which he argues that assessments are not a primary systemic lever for improvement in education and that assessments should remain tools that provide feedback to teachers in the classroom.

We need robust systems of school-based assessments, the results of which can feed both policy-making and policy implementation.

there must be clear mechanisms for accountability. In order to fix accountability, one has to first set performance standards. In our schools, the performance standard that should matter the most is what children are learning in school. These learning outcomes need not be restricted to reading and numeracy, but at the end of the day, our education system must be able to set grade-appropriate yardsticks for what children will learn in school. And they must be held to account against the delivery of these learning outcomes.

Also, the accountability story

There is irrefutable evidence that the education sector faces a serious crisis of accountability with organised civil service-employed teachers. This is not an issue that can be overcome by additional teacher training. Research has shown that an isolated intervention at training or re-training teachers do not yield improvements in performance. Also, teachers in public schools in India are already in the upper quintiles of the income distribution of the country. There are also heart-warming stories of teachers who against all odds deliver to the best of their abilities in the interest of their students. This, however, is not the case if we talk of the average teacher in a public school. This crisis needs to be confronted on multiple fronts: by enforcing vertical accountability in the bureaucratic system that runs the education system; as well as providing communities and organised civil society the tools to demand accountability from their schools. Assessments that generate a measure of student-level learning outcomes are a way of doing this.

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