Assessment of schools

Maybe a universal, yet simple, measure of assessment of quality across schools

Assessing the quality of a school was always very simple – the top (and average) of the grades/marks obtained in the terminal examination, the board exams. This measure worked well for close to 200 years until around the year 2000. What happened thereafter?

The marks obtained in the terminal exams were getting way off the expectations generated among the students, parents and schools. The marks started to fail the children, parents, teachers and schools in reflecting the true quality of learning.

Why did the marks start to go off the expectations? Apparently, the sole focus of schools on academics started to get diluted in favour of ‘overall development’ and it reflected in the form of lowered academic rigour in the years leading up to the board exams. A couple of years before the board exams is indeed too late for academic excellence – the deficits in reading and language, and the conceptual backlogs in maths and science cannot be undone in most cases (if detected in class IX or X).

Further, newer benchmarks were not agreed upon for assessing academic performance in the context of increasing focus on overall development. Schools ended up indiscriminately mixing academic assessments and ‘overall development assessments’ in the progress reports. Expectedly, the progress reports were ‘inflated’ for academic progress if parents and teachers could not filter out the ‘noise’ elements in the academic performance due to the direct and indirect inclusion of ‘co-scholastic’ performance.

Thus, as it stands today, there is a lack of universally acceptable measures of quality of learning across schools. We need a new set of measures – beyond marks/grades and ‘board exams’ – to assess quality in schools. Interestingly, one of the simplest quality measures to make sense of the ‘real quality’ is to tie quality to ‘visible and actual’ educational outcomes on children.

It is in this context that the new measures of quality at the level of terminal exams could be listed as under:

  1. The extent of diversity in the post-school career choices of the students– the bigger the diversity in career choices, the better the quality of education in a school.
  2. The extent of convergence in the performance (in the board exams or any other school examination) of the top and bottom ends of every class – the smaller the divergence, the better the quality of education in a school; average of the class performance is a very weak measure of quality. This measure needs to be illustrated with an example. Let us consider the performance of two schools in the Class XII board exams:
    1. the first school has a lower average performance (73%) and low divergence of performance between the top and bottom performers (11%) and
    2. the second school has a higher average performance (82%) and high divergence between the top and the bottom (23%)

Which of the two schools is likely to have better processes for quality in education? To us, the first school! Schools’ role is best felt at the bottom end of performance and the school which pushed up the bottom performers closest to the top is the better one, in terms of the strength of its quality processes.

A very pertinent aspect of the aforementioned two measures of terminal assessment is the fact that the data required for the two are mostly in public domain and the two are fairly objectively ascertainable.

However, the terminal assessment as the sole measure of school’s performance has two limitations:

  1. It is necessarily a reflection of a lot of supplementary teaching (tuition and coaching) beyond the school system and
  2. It is too late in the education of a child and we need measures which could be useful throughout the 14 years of school education.

The following three measures are perhaps the simplest ways to assess quality on an ongoing basis:

  1. The nature of class work – the similar the nature of class work of students in a section (or all the sections of a class), the poorer the quality of education in a school.
  2. The extent of lateral conversations in a class in every period – the higher the extent of lateral conversations (among students) in a class, the better the quality of education.
  3. The nature of homework – the more the reading content in homework, the better; the more the ‘practice ahead’ component in homework, the better; the more explicit the recognition of possibility of mistakes in homework exercises, the better. And the projects and homework should be accepted only if they are visibly and assuredly done by the students themselves (and to that extent the project assignments are simple).

These three measures are also fairly easy to observe though the relevant data for the three are not available in public domain with respect to a school, but the parents in a school know all about the state of affair on these measures.

Go ahead and let your child’s school know that you will use these measures (and others) to assess the quality of education.

‘Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.’

— Scott Hayden

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