Understanding assessment of children

Many children start faltering from Class IX onwards. Why does it happen?

For many students, the academic performance is a story of steady fall for years. Truly, teachers know the reality and even a somewhat attentive parent can easily discern the same by the level of academic engagement of their children, within and outside classrooms. For these students, the schooling years are actually regressive. Unfortunately, the regression is not reflected in the ‘progress report system’ because it is not supposed to – a regression report will be completely different in format, frequency and content, compared to a progress report.

Specifically, the following are just a sample of reasons for the progress reporting system in schools not registering the possible regression in students’ performance:

a. the aggregation of the performance in the formative* and summative assessments is misleading and inflates the ‘final’ marks/grades
b. misplaced incentive system (monetary and non-monetary) of teachers cannot show decline in students’ performance
c. competitive pressure on schools to show progress in students – schools end up devising assessments and evaluations that must show continuous progress of enrolled students
d. most importantly, a general decline in the ‘quality of parenting’ leaves little scope for schools to report the decline. Parents do not really want to see the truth! Parents are happy to live in the new-found illusory world of trusting the physical assets over children (the belief that land, building, gold, mutual funds, etc. ‘cannot fail’ to appreciate in value unlike children)

*A brief discussion on the formative and summative assessments will help you understand the issue better and it is presented below:

Formative assessment (FA) performance marks should ideally not be used in the ‘performance measurement’ because the purpose of formatives is to diagnose weak spots and improve them for better performance in the (final/last) summative assessments (SA). For example, adding FA and SA performances is like adding the performances of an athlete during the heats/trials and the final run! Or it is like adding to the performance in the final match of tennis, the performances of the semi-final and quarter final too. Both the instances would to fairly ridiculous with unjust results! Adding FA and SA performances has just the same affect – meaningless and unfair!

To be honest, there are some fundamental shifts that set in beyond Class VIII and blow up the gaping holes in progress reporting system and the performance regression cannot anymore be hidden. As a result, the decline is rather dramatic over Class VIII to Class IX reflecting the cumulative regression followed by another big blow when moving from Class IX to Class X (because Class IX performance takes a big beating in just that year itself). These declines are rather too sharp to be tweaked away in the reporting system and finally get registered from Class IX onwards.

While there are a few fundamental shifts to be taken note of with respect to the fall in performance post class VIII, the following three are the more important ones:

  1. The hormonal changes start ‘peaking’ around the time children move from middle to secondary level – children need special understanding and support from parents and teachers during this period of biochemical and emotional upheavals. For several reasons, the ‘extra empathy’ needed by teens is missing in most homes and teachers are too stretched to lend a helping hand or shoulder. Teen years are a particularly difficult period for children in current times because of the social network sites and the Internet too – there is much being publicly shared about teen’s issues. Children will get distracted from studies in these years unless they are shielded from ‘teens stress’.
    Mostly, parents either do not know how to discuss these issues with their children and leave it to the school or they do it as if delivering some punishment to themselves. Parents should discuss these behavioural changes with their children while playing, driving, watching TV, etc. so that it is more of two friends discussing rather than making it an awkward conversation. Spend more time with your children in their teens!
    To top it all, formal sex education is virtually non- existent in many countries.
  2. The study practices, which worked till Class VIII suddenly seem to fail the children from class IX onwards – by Class IX, concepts start to crystallise and the lack of conceptual understanding critically impairs the foundation for learning new concepts. Rote memory and cramming starts to fail the children because concepts cannot be replaced by a simple rote definition; for instance, force is ‘a simple definition’ in Class VI but it is a concept in Class XI and by implication force is a fairly complex entity (e.g. force acquires a number of attributes) in Class XI. Children fail to understand the steep drop in performance and neither the school nor parents make children aware of the need to start working on concepts. To make matters worse, schools hardly use concept-based teaching, assessment, reporting and remedies.
  3. Children who are not ‘skilled readers’ face slipping reasoning and logical skills and then the opposite is relied on – emotional reactions – disproportionately emotional reactions start dominating children’s behaviour and that can quickly convert into learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a conditioned response to repeated criticism due to (educational) failures and it is a state where it hurts too much to try and children ‘turn off’ as the safest way to ‘avoid failure’. This may form a precipitated downward spiral leading children to believe that they will never be able to gain control of their ‘hopeless academic performance’. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of students ends up with poor reading skills by Class IX and cannot avoid emotional reasoning in situations that demand logical reasoning (in case you are surprised to know this fact, please read the section on reading).

It becomes difficult to regain lost ground in reading/language if reading skills/language skills are weak around the age of 13. Further, under the guise of working hard on maths and science, mostly no work is done with children on language development in secondary classes and this further pulls down their academic reports.

Steps for saving the grace post Class VIII:

  1. The fall in performance is not sudden but gradual over the past classes. Consequently, you, the parents, must maintain a system of independent evaluation of your child’s progress from Class III onwards and avoid the end-of-middle-school shock. This is a subject of detailed discussion in another question.
  2. To arrest the falling performance from Class IX:
    a. Spend time with your child to find out the exact mix of the problems in the case of your child, in terms of the three aforementioned reasons (and others like social media, quality of teacher, peers); attempt to untangle and address in the order mentioned above. Stay close to your teen children in their hour of emotional crisis.
    b. Almost all children lag behind the expected conceptual understanding appropriate for their class. To be honest, many a children severely lag behind. Your child may be in Class IX but he may be conceptually at Class V level in geometry, Class VI level in algebra, Class V level in motion, etc. Simply put, there is no way Class IX could be successfully transacted unless all the domains of knowledge are brought to the level of successful achievement of Class VIII. Find a way to revisit and fortify all previous–class concepts, on priority. The ‘Mentoring Million Minds’is a unique eduportal to help you in this task.
    c. Do not ignore language – English leaves a lot to be desired and the problem only aggravates as English is the language of instruction for maths and science for many children. More than half the problems of maths and science are due to poor competence in the language of instruction! However, it must be known that significant improvement in English is a very tough call in secondary classes. Take the language development as a family endeavour and get your child cross the language barrier at all costs.

You can easily ‘handhold your child’ if you make it your priority!

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