Alternative assessment is assessment strategies which usually focus on skills rather than knowledge as is done in paper and pencil tests. Paper and pencil tests usually assess the knowledge of the students in a particular subject; not what a student can do with the knowledge learnt in the classroom. Only knowledge and little or no skill is like a curse for a student because their performances are disappointingly lower than their knowledge; and this kind of knowledge with little or no skill is also an indicator of low quality of education. If a student cannot relate their knowledge to real life, that cannot be called better education. For ensuring quality in education, we need to give a second thought to the current assessment system in schools and colleges; change in the assessment system may change the classroom practices. Unlike paper and pencil tests, alternative assessment focuses more on ‘doing’ alongside ‘knowing’. What students are able to do is more focused in alternative assessment system. If skills are practiced and assessed alongside knowledge, the quality of education is manifested in the behaviours of the learners. Parents can see what their children are able to do; society can see what the students can do with the knowledge learnt in schools. For example, if students are engaged in English speaking practices and this skill is assessed, the students’ speaking skill must improve and will be noticeable in their everyday communication. In case of Mathematics, if students are engaged in measuring the areas of the classroom, their table, benches, books, etc. alongside solving problems given in the textbooks, students will be able to use the mathematical knowledge in practical life.
How can knowledge be practised and assessed and how can the academic knowledge be related to real life? What is the use of knowledge unless it can be used to solve everyday issues? Students can be taught how to connect the theoretical knowledge to everyday activities through proper implementation of continuous assessment strategies or alternative assessment strategies in educational institutions. What are the usual alternative assessment strategies used throughout the world? The major alternative assessment strategies include self-assessment (keeping records of practices and self-progress); peer-assessment (keeping accounts of classmates’ practices and progress/contribution in accomplishing a task); student portfolios (preserving all the writings, drawing, and any other achievement in a file/folder in the classroom. Folders are kept in the classroom and the students themselves are responsible to preserve their work and achievement documents); and performance assessment (student presents an individual work/pair work/group work, other students of the class and the teacher ask questions or provide feedback, if any). Other kinds of alternative assessment are observing students, keeping a reflective journal, holding a dialogue, conferencing, debating, acting, and so on. These kinds of assessment which is executed continuously help improve quality in education through engagement of students in practical activities. On the other hand, during calamities like Covid-19 pandemic, floods, cyclones, tornadoes, and others, decisions about students’ promotion or certification can be taken based on the CA or alternative assessment documentation.
The secondary curriculum 2012 gives the schools mandate to assess students continuously on 20% marks in all subjects, which was 30% in the name of SBA (School Based Assessment) previously. Although the curriculum provided some guidelines for that continuous assessment (CA), most of the schools are not seen to implement CA properly because they do not feel it urgent to do that and partly because they are not familiar with the CA literature. Telephone interviews with some renowned teachers of Dhaka city provide similar data. What they do in the name of CA is just providing imaginary or fake marks against students’ roll numbers without assessing learners. This kind of unethical practice is rampant in many educational institutions of the country.
It is known from BEDU (Bangladesh Examination Development Unit) source that our education system is going to have alternative assessment implemented from the next year. The major question is, “Are the teachers ready to start CA or alternative assessment practices in schools?” There is no statistics how many teachers are trained on the alternative assessment system. I interviewed four renowned secondary teachers of Dhaka city where questions included related to training, readiness of teachers, challenges to implementing CA or alternative assessment strategies, etc. All the four teachers claimed that around 40% teachers were trained on CA where they learnt something about the alternative assessment strategies but their knowledge about CA waned due to lack of practices. The training was organised by NCTB (National Curriculum & Textbook Board) with financial support from SESIP (Secondary Education Sector Investment Program). Although teachers have got some theoretical knowledge about CA or alternative assessment strategies, they are not fully confident in implementing the ideas. Although most of the teachers believe that CA or alternative assessment practices can bring quality in education making students more confident about what they have learnt, attitudes of the teachers including the head teachers and the assistant head teachers are negative towards CA because they think CA or alternative assessment is an additional pressure on them. Moreover, teachers do not feel any pressure from the local and central education authority to implement CA or alternative assessment system; teachers are busy with other works such as model test, preparation test, and so on which keep them busy in checking answer scripts, publishing results, and so on. The curriculum suggested only two examinations a year but the schools organise some other tests named model tests and preparation tests ignoring the instruction by NCTB. Unless it becomes mandatory, teachers won’t engage in alternative assessment practices. Moreover, there needs a strong monitoring and mentoring system in order to support proper implementation of CA or alternative assessment strategies.
For maintaining uniformity in implementation, there should be an alternative assessment Hand Book (HB) ready before providing training to the teachers and the education administrators. In that book, strategies should be described properly with examples and assessment/marking/grading exemplars. Training materials can be made ready in PowerPoint. NCTB, TTCs (Teachers’ Training Colleges), and NAEM (National Academy for Educational Management) can be given the responsibility to start the training. At least one from DEO office should be trained so that they can disseminate the ideas to their colleagues and can use the ideas during school visits to check if the teachers are implementing the suggested alternative assessment strategies or not. We can provide training to a single teacher of an educational institution and give them the HB and the PowerPoint file so that they can disseminate assessment ideas locally.
Alternatively, BEDU can video the training sessions and upload in their website and ask every teacher and education administrator to complete the training online. Of course, there should be options for questioning to make the new ideas clear to the online trainees. Alongside training teachers and introducing the strategies to the education administrators, students and parents should also be made ready through sensitising the new ideas. School head and assistant head teachers should take responsibility to disseminate and sensitise the students and their guardians regarding the changes in delivery and assessment system.
I would like to thank the Ministry of Education for the decision to effectively start the alternative assessment strategies from 2021. As an experienced teacher educator, I firmly believe that, the implementation of this decision would enhance and retain quality in education. Besides, as mentioned earlier, implementation of CA or alternative assessment practices would provide us with data to take decision about students’ promotion and certification during calamities in an alternative way.
The writer is Associate Professor posted at Teachers’ Training College, Dhaka