Classalyze recently did a project for a large CBSE government school chain — around 970 schools all over the country. Our findings were quite astounding.
In the Class 10 national board exam, the pass percentage for the school chain was 99.39% — and it was down from the previous year (99.991%). As per the Right to Education Act passed in 2009, no child can be detained up to Grade 8, but it seems this rule is almost extended till Grade 10.
But what makes this even more interesting is the national average of 97.32. Take a moment and let that number sink in — almost all the children who take the test all over India are passing. The CBSE website lists that there are 13.28 lakh (1.3 million) students who appeared for the Grade 10 exam. Do you mean to tell me in a nation where most Class 5 kids cannot read Class 2 Hindi/English (as per pretty much every ASER report), that almost everyone is graduating?
Hopefully you grasp the gravity of the situation — Almost 1.3 million kids are graduating every year and those same children will be in college or the workforce two years later! Let me try to address some of the questions in your head:
What is the CBSE doing?
The Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) has not been idle. They have been experimenting with a new system called Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) over the past 5 years.
What is CCE?
Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) refers to a system of school-based evaluation of students that covers all aspects of students development.
A brainchild of the Kapil Sibal era, CCE was brought in to address 3 major problems in our system:
- Our assessments are purely summative (an autopsy used to determine pass/fails). CCE believes formative assessment is very important, i.e. teachers need to use assessment as a form of feedback for further instruction in the classroom. For example, after a test is conducted, if a teacher finds out that 70% of his/her class has not grasped Division of Fractions, then that concept needs to be re-taught. This is a very powerful idea, one which is being implemented successfully by many charter schools in the US.
- Children are not evaluated holistically. As a nation we focus too much on academic merit and ignore other aspects of a child’s development. We assess learners on examination results without factoring in other indicators. The CCE has introduced co-scholastic indicators such as thinking skills, social skills, attitude towards peers etc.
- Increasing stress in children. Percentages and class rankings have always been used to define and identify children in classes. The stress of not getting a 99.5 instead of a 99.7 was enough to make a child consider giving up on life. It was to do away with this mindset, and ensure that children get to live a stress free childhood, that the CCE brought in the concept of grades.
Sounds great, what’s the problem?
From a policy standpoint, the CBSE has enforced CCE strongly, at least in urban areas. They are forcing teachers to assess their students using new techniques such as crosswords, team projects and presentations. They are also enforcing schools to create evidence for such activities, which is unfortunately a necessary evil when bringing about a systemic change. CBSE has also created teacher manuals, conducted extensive training sessions and provided blueprints for assessment design. So while the system has been implemented efficiently in terms of process, little thought has gone into the effectiveness of the implementation.
- Being detained is actually a skill! CCE caused a 10% hike in grade 10 scores in one year after it was introduced which is nearly statistically impossible! It’s a poorly kept secret that most boards are also artificially increasing marks but giving away free marks legally is alarming! Formative assessments are graded very leniently by school teachers and is a major reason for the upswing in A1 grades.
- No strategy behind co-scholastic grading. While I appreciate the intent of reporting only grades instead of marks, is it making much of a difference? Instead of focusing entirely on swapping one marking system for another, the idea should have been to introduce a system of holistic grading within marks. All that has happened now is that percentages have been swapped for grades that are hell for teachers to calculate. Leaving aside Scholastic Grades, there are Co-Scholastic skills, which include — Life Skills, Attitudes & Values, Participation & Achievement and Health & Physical Education. Within Life Skills, the distribution of which is shown below, there are various different skills that the teacher must consider when compiling one student’s co-scholastic grade.
3. Increased Teacher Workload. Keeping the above types of co-scholastic skills in mind, imagine if a teacher has one class of 30 children. Not only does she have to take summative as well as ongoing formative assessments for the scholastic side of CCE, she also has to assess each and every child on the different factors given above. That’s more than 20 variables to be graded on per child, which doesn’t even include the different indicators for assessment per skill. It’s after collating the results of all the formative and summative tests, as well as going through all the indicators per skill and grading for each variable in co-scholastic areas of CCE that the teacher finishes compiling the result for one kid.
She now has 29 more kids to go.
So we should scrap CCE?
Well, no. CCE introduced some great new concepts but clearly has a number of problems. For the CBSE to succeed it needs to rapidly iterate. In software there is the concept of rapid iteration where you change product features quickly based on customer feedback and by analyzing how they use the product — so for example, if no one is clicking on a link to goto a certain page, it probably shouldn’t be there and that feature either sucks or isn’t required. I don’t want to solely criticize the CBSE — I think they’ve made a brave attempt at something, but it all fails if they don’t actually learn from failure and evolve. With a new government in the centre, changes were expected but nothing has come to fruition so far. This is what I believe needs to get done:
- Drastically reduce reporting work: Teachers are overburdened with data entry work. We cannot afford to have classrooms with 20:1 student teacher ratios, and getting a teacher to enter all the information mentioned above is taking away from her focus on improving learning.
- Integrated Co-Scholastic Curriculum. The problem right now is that we’re focussing on assessing holistic learning while no thought has been given on how to impart a holistic education. Steps need to be taken to create an integrated co-scholastic curriculum. This is to ensure that even before assessments are considered, we’ve taken all necessary steps to ensure that all children have been imparted a holistic education. Unless and until they’ve been taught the skills they’re being tested on, don’t assessments become redundant?
- Stricter Promotion Policies. We should not be promoting children to the next grade if they don’t deserve to. As a nation we will are only fooling ourselves by showing an increased promotion rate.
- Formative assessments should be a means for teachers to check for understanding, rather than inflate marks. If a child gets 90% on formative tests and 30% on a summative, there is a huge disconnect somewhere.
Strong leadership in education
We recently completed the Grade 12 analysis for the same school chain and the results were not much different - the overall pass percentage was still over 98%. All this really scares me and let me tell you why. Have you wondered why a country invests in education? Why is your tax money going towards opening schools? The government educates people so that they can be a positive contribution to society, innovate and bring in more wealth. As a business, you put in capital, to make more capital.
Our country will never be able to make more ‘capital’ if we keep thinking in terms of pass percentages. We need leaders who are trying to measure learning outcomes instead of focusing on what the pass percentage is this year. How do we ensure our principals care about learning in their schools and are not just glorified money collectors? We need more organizations like the Indian School Leadership Institute looking to address this huge problem. School leaders need to be system thinkers — understand that the school is a system — where the child is the input and an intelligent, resourceful and positive member to society is the output.
The author this article, Nikhil Swaminathan is the founder and CEO of Classalyze — an online assessment feedback tool that analyzes and remediates conceptual gaps in the classroom.