Everyone in today’s world understands the value of incentives. Incentives motivate individuals, drive action & improve performance. Most systems work better with clearly defined objectives & incentives for participants in the system.

Sadly, the public education system in India doesn’t make use of this basic insight, leading to a chronic deficiency in its effectiveness. It is not, however, an open & shut case. There have been many large scale assessment led educational initiatives that show that not all assessment leads to improvement in outcomes.

schoolA case in point is a program that the Azim Premji Foundation ran in association with state governments in 5 Indian states. While the program ‘worked’ on an operational level, it didn’t lead to any significant improvement in educational outcomes.

Anurag Beher, the CEO of the Foundation felt that,

“By measuring the temperature of individuals in a population, and creating incentives for improvement, population wide improvement in health will not happen. For actual improvement, all the work and investment will have to be on doctors, paramedics, awareness, nutrition, sanitation, hospitals etc.

Likewise, thinking of assessment (of any kind) as a primary systemic lever for improvement in education is ineffective; the work lies elsewhere, mostly in building human capacity. In fact, in the case of education, the use of assessment as a lever has definite negative effects.”

Assessment for the sake of assessment is not something, even we at LFW, advocate. However in our experience, assessment as a mechanism for feedback to the teacher, student & their parents, has immense value. This is not unlike what Beher himself concludes finally;

“The effective use of assessment in education is for feedback into the learning process by helping teachers and students teach and learn better. Testing is ineffective and deleterious as an administrative tool for direct decision-making or to rank schools and students.”

The whole edifice of LFW’s English language program is based on assessment. Over the last decade, we’ve used assessments to understand better the impact of our programs on our target audiences. Every learning module of ours is peppered with tests that tell us how the students & by proxy, the teachers are performing.

Our assessment framework, developed in-house over the years, is designed to analyse outcomes at 3 levels:

  1. Student: At an individual level, we measure the student’s entry level capability, month-on-month progress and eventually exit level capability. This helps us map the student according to capability & therefore administer the relevant level of content for his/ her needs. The assessments also act as a feedback into our content by highlighting inadequacies.
  2. Teacher: Depending on performance of students, we identify teaching gaps and recommend appropriate teacher-level interventions.
  3. Organization level: How much value does LeapForWord add and its partner organization deliver? We can quantifiably measure value delivered (and hence lost) by each teacher. This allows comparision of teachers’ performances to identify the good performers so that they can be incentivized & their teaching practices mined for best practices.

Today,most of the assessment & feedback is done manually. As we scale up technology will become critical. The goal is to eventually be able to use this data real-time & feed it back into the system for monitoring & corrective actions on the ground. At scale, the data thus gathered, will also allow us to glean insights that would help the content & its delivery become more effective. We are currently working on the technology framework for this next phase of scaled operations & would welcome suggestions & any help from any of you reading this. 🙂

Assessments aren’t bad, it’s how we use the results that matter. It is important, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For programs like ours, there’s no other way of improving ourselves, save for continous measurements. Much like Suvojit Chattopadhyay says in another article in the same newspaper;

“Education systems are complex. In India, at the national level or even at the state-level, the scale of the challenge can be daunting. It is, however, important not to confuse the ends with the means. Assessments are not the primary lever for systemic change, but they certainly are a key component of the effort required to push the real levers to lift the load of our low-performing education system.”