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July 09, 2013


In the act of auditing classes I see a clear need to improve where things stand. I am also applying for a small SAIIER grant for the various interventions and the electronics classes. All these aspects got me thinking regarding assessments.

ASSET tests
I had heard of the ASSET tests being aimed at focussing on children's understanding of concepts and I thought that this would be as good a place to get ideas. I enrolled myself on their website and took the examinations from 3rd to 9th grade. I went down to 3rd grade as I was not sure if the level of papers would be something that the children of the villages can handle and wanted to know which of the papers we could give them.

There are a few good ideas (reminders of things that already exist) with problems that require some abstraction of a real life problem (Mathematization).

Its a little annoying that these people allow you to cut and paste the model paper, but do not 'allow' you to cut and paste the actual examination (yeah, that will stop me). I mean the emphasis is in the evaluation, so why the cheapness in the exam when I have paid for it.

The teachers at Isai Ambalam school took the 4 grade test (best way to go through a paper). As they went through the paper they also marked questions they liked/could use in their class and which they thought assessed the understanding of the children.

The first response I got from the teachers to describe the paper was twisted :). The teacher further clarified that they tend to over simplify things and the exercise gave them some idea of what else could be done.

A volunteer in the US who works with poor neighborhood schools talked about her experience with standardized tests and how they are extensively used in the US. She also mentioned how it is possible to significantly improve the scores by simply training the children how to take these examinations. Techniques like elimination instead of solving problem, looking at the answers and finding out the short cuts needed, etc.

This exercise made me realize that my purpose is not to assess how children take standardized tests, but their understanding of concepts. For a large scale operation like a standardized test where you lack manpower to go through how children are thinking of a problem, the multiple choice and how quickly children eliminate possibilities may be important, but in a school setting where the student to teacher ratio is under 20, this is unnecessary.

I decided not to use the assessments as such and simply use it as one more source of ideas from which the teachers can frame an examination that can test the understanding of the children.

PISA tests
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.

The problems clearly display more thought has gone into the organization of the examination. It requires data analysis, modeling and interpretation of real life problems. It also requires that children show how they went about doing something. The problems are also sometimes not oversimplified so they can have many different answers and each child is assessed based on what she or he did.

Of course the limit is the lack of graded examinations if the need is to assess the children at different stages. However, the teachers can use this as a starting point.

Limitation of standardized tests
This is an addendum. As I have started working with children on 'math' I realize that the biggest limitation of standardized tests is that its about quick solutions. If what we want children to actually learn patient problem solving, of making complex simple, something they can internalize and take with them through their life, these tests don't touch this space.

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