What after the No Detention Policy and Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation?
The focus of education policymakers on outcomes, especially learning outcomes, is steadily rising. This is the second blog in a blog series to discuss paradigm shifts in the field of assessments in India’s public education system.
2017 has been an exciting year in the field of public education in India. Several important policy changes have been introduced with respect to assessments. Two of these have been the scrapping of the No Detention Policy (NDP) and the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) by the CBSE. In this blog, I briefly discuss what these are, their implementation story, where we stand today with respect to these policies, and the questions bringing in these changes have thrown up vis a vis improving learning levels of students.
What is the No Detention Policy and the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation?
The No Detention Policy (NDP) saw light of day when the Right to Education Act (2009) was implemented. Under Section 16 of the Act, schools were prohibited from detaining or expelling any student up to standard 8. Moreover, schools were required to remove the oft dreaded end term examinations. The annual examination pattern, it was argued, put undue pressure on students to rote memorise the entire syllabi, which stunted a student’s capacity to understand and apply concepts. Another criticism was that such exams made scoring high marks in tests among the primary goals of education.
The end term examination pattern was to be replaced with a new pattern of testing called Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). Under this, schools were to test students periodically throughout the year, using a mix of written and activity-based assessments, on what they were actually learning. The idea was to equip the teacher with useful feedback regarding her student so she could tailor her inputs according to the pupil. The CCE pattern was also designed to assess other aspects of a student’s education such as creative skills and emotional development. Thus, CCE was conceived to put the focus again on student learning.
Transition from traditional assessment patterns to NDP and CCE
It did not take long for the impact of these policies to become visible. Dropout rates reduced drastically in the years following the implementation of the RTE Act. However, concerns soon started emerging from states across the country. Schools began to complain about students not taking their studies seriously because exams had been scrapped and they would still be able to graduate to the next standard irrespective of their learning. Several teachers and principals even admitted to becoming lax about what students in elementary classes were learning. Moreover, CCE report cards, an important assessment tool, were not taken seriously since department-level inquiries about the content of these reports were rare.
The transition to the CCE pattern of assessments was anything but smooth and was marred by resistance, fuelled by the harsh reality of working in public schools. The kind of individual attention that teachers were required to give under the CCE mode of teaching and assessment was viewed as unfeasible because of poor teacher-to-student ratio, lack of classrooms, and other resource constraints. The time spent by teachers on reporting back on the CCE - often multiple times in a year - was also seen as an impediment, eating into their teaching time.
The present situation
In 2015, a Sub-Committee was created to look into the issues surrounding the CCE and NDP. Based on the feedback given by states, they issued several recommendations which would require amending the RTE Act (2009). A number of these were accepted by the Union Cabinet in August 2017. In the Winter Session of Parliament this year, the 'Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017' will be tabled which, if passed, will bring about important changes in the Act with respect to NDP. The proposed amendments are as follows:
- The provision to not detain students until completion of elementary education will be amended. Central or state governments will be able to allow schools to hold back students in standards 5 and 8, or in both classes.
- Regular exams will be held for students in standards 5 and 8 every year. If students fail these exams, they will be given additional lessons and a chance to reappear for the exams.
- If the students fail the re-examination, they may be held back in standards 5, 8, or in both classes. The central or state government will also be empowered to decide the manner and conditions under which students may be held back.
The CBSE has scrapped CCE assessments from its schools and introduced a fixed, uniform marking pattern for standards 6 to 9. It has also reintroduced board exams for standard 10. Several state boards, however, continue on the CCE pattern in curtailed form for standards uptil standard 8.
Will reverting back to the old mode of assessments improve learning?
The present Bill, expected to be tabled in Parliament soon, explicitly links the move to scrap the NDP with the goal of improved learning:
'In the “Statement of Objects and Reasons” for introducing the amendments, it is stated that “…in order to improve the learning outcomes in the elementary classes and after wide deliberations with all the stakeholders, it is proposed to substitute section 16 so as to empower the appropriate Government to take a decision as to whether to hold back a child in the fifth class or in the eighth class or in both classes, or not to hold back a child in any class, till the completion of elementary education.”'
Annual exams (and the importance given to final test scores) are going to return. There are various questions staring policy makers. Firstly, are the moves to reintroduce the concept of detaining students and scrapping or heavily modifying the CCE contradicting the policy objective of improving learning? Secondly, will reverting to the previous exam pattern be able to address the issue of rote memorisation this time around?
Through anecdotal evidence we know that most teachers preferred the old assessment pattern. They firmly believe that students will learn only if they fear the teacher and failing exams.
Presently, large scale policy changes are taking place in the field of assessments, all with the goal to improve learning. In the previous blog of this series, my colleague Mridusmita threw light on how the National Achievement Survey (NAS) was pitched differently this year to ensure that state and national plans are designed keeping actual learning achievements in mind. Moreover, a new concept called Learning Outcomes (which will be discussed in the next blog by my colleague Taanya) has been introduced across the country which may have far reaching implications in how assessments are viewed in India’s public education system.
Yet, even as these new changes are being introduced, have policy makers learnt a lesson from the CCE experience? CCE was introduced to help teachers tailor inputs and assess students periodically such that students actually learn. The implementation of the CCE, however, only taught us that the system was not equipped to handle this change. This raises some critical questions. Have the limitations of implementing CCE (such as resource constraints faced by schools, and capacity of teachers to implement CCE in letter and spirit) been adequately addressed such that these new changes yield positive results? The answers will only shape up in the years to come.