Sunday, Oct 26, 2014

One report card is not enough

The 12th Five Year Plan acknowledges this learning deficit and targets improvement of education quality as its priority. (AP) The 12th Five Year Plan acknowledges this learning deficit and targets improvement of education quality as its priority. (AP)
Written by Lant Pritchett , Gulzar Natarajan | Posted: March 15, 2014 2:46 am

If education were only about schools, physical infrastructure and ensuring universal enrolment, then India has succeeded spectacularly. Every large habitation has a school, most schools have buildings and teachers assigned, students have study materials. The first step, schooling, has been taken. It was hoped or assumed that once the schooling inputs were in place, education and learning outcomes would follow automatically. However, that learning outcomes are woefully deficient has been established by numerous Indian and international assessments. The next step is to turn schooling into real education.

The 12th Five Year Plan acknowledges this learning deficit and targets improvement of education quality as its priority. It seeks to introduce “a system-wide focus on learning outcomes that are assessed through classroom-based Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) independently measured, monitored and reported at the block/ district/ state levels”. It also advocates the articulation of “clear learning goals at the end of each class” that are “understood by parents and teachers”, as well as its “bottom-up community-driven monitoring”. We propose a three-fold scheme of measurement of learning outcomes to turn that agenda into action.

A major impediment to moving learning outcomes to primacy over inputs in the politics, policy, and practice of education is disagreement on the assessment and measurement of student learning. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. But part of the debate about assessment is a fear that measuring learning will create too much “high stakes” pressure. This fear is odd because there already is lots of measurement, creating information that is collected, analysed and reported. The current state and district elementary education “report cards”, to tell us “where we stand”, have 824 separate pieces of information for each district. We can know the number of classrooms with a ramp, the number of classrooms needing minor repair, the number of students that are blind. But the current report cards on schooling are completely silent on education.

Suppose we do decide to measure progress on learning, a fundamental principle of economics is that achieving optimal results requires as many instruments as targets. If you want to kill two birds you almost always need two stones, as two birds with one stone is dumb luck, not a plan. There has been too much fruitless debate about the one best way to measure and report on learning — fruitless because there is no one best way. There are different purposes of assessing learning and hence different approaches are necessary, even if all agree on the conceptual base.

There are three audiences for information on learning: educators, who need information to guide their day-to-day and year-to-year instructional activities; government officials, who supervise the system and who need information to understand how the overall system is progressing; and parents and citizens, who continued…

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