November 2007

An ASSET for Schools

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Educational Initiatives (EI), the organisation run by a group of IIMA alumni aims to bring about a significant improvement in the quality of student learning through research-based means with a special focus on assessment. The group wants to accurately measure how well children are learning so that this can meaningfully serve as feedback on how the education system is doing as a whole. About 50% of their effort is focused on private, English medium schools, and the balance on the mass government education system. EI works with the World Bank with rural schools in Andhra Pradesh, with UNICEF in 13 states of India, and also with municipal schools of 30 towns of 5 states.

At the heart of EI is its focus on “measuring true learning”, i.e., finding out how much children have really understood and can apply from what they have studied in school. The experience of assessing kids over the last 5 years through the diagnostic test ASSET and other studies has repeatedly shown that children even in the best schools in India aren't learning as much as they should. The purpose of doing this study, or all the studies, is to trigger a debate on the real status of teaching and learning in India, and then play a part in a larger movement for change.

In the experience of the founder directors of Eklayva, who are currently the directors at EI, there have been innovations in teaching methodology, architecture, infrastructure and educational material. Most schools invest a lot of their time and energy in creating the right physical environment for the children to learn. They also provide a lot of different type of stimuli (in the form of activities, projects etc). But one of most critical links missing is 'Feedback'.

The current assessment methodology encourages and rewards rote memorisation. A large part of this is due to the structure of the Board exams (some boards are changing their pattern) so the schools also prepare the children accordingly. There is very little time, given the curriculum width and breadth and the shortage of teaching hours to focus on, has the student really understood and can the student use this understanding to apply the knowledge in unfamiliar situations.

It was felt that schools are changing their curriculum to make it more relevant and are adopting a lot of new practices. In such a situation it would be useful for the schools to get accurate, objective and scientific feedback on the extent to which their efforts have been successful.

The mark based feedback by its very nature does not answer a child/ parent's question of “WHY” has my child done bad/well and what are the concrete steps that the child/parent should take to 'IMPROVE' the child's achievement level. To answer the above questions, ASSET was developed as an objective, skill-based diagnostic test that would test the understanding and application of concepts that are covered within the school curriculum.

Unlike the conventional system of examination which tests the ability of a student to memorise without application of thought, ASSET diagnoses and conceptualises the understanding of a student. It is prepared on the curriculum of various state boards, CBSE and ICSE and consists of activities, worksheets, experiments and games scientifically designed to strengthen skills. It is a tool to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of each student.

The test is conducted in three subjects English, Maths and Science and Social Studies and Hindi are optional subjects for the students of Class 3 to 10. The uniqueness about ASSET test that it is not a just launched concept. Over 1000 schools in the country are taking the test every year in India, Middle East and Singapore. These schools see value because it is a test designed for the Indian curricula and the results are useful for taking remedial action. Over 2,00,000 students take part in the test every year.

A lot of technology goes into the analysis of the ASSET results. One interesting technology involves automatic matching and correction of student names allows us to ship the results to schools within 45 days or less. Note that, unlike other tests, ASSET papers are matched for every student, and the student gets a consolidated report across subjects.

For children whose schools are not taking ASSET, the alternative mode is  ASSETOnline (www.assetonline.in) – an online version of the ASSET test. ASSETOnline, being the exact same test available on the Internet, makes available all these benefits at the time and place convenient to students. Moreover, unlike the paper based ASSET test, a student can take this diagnostic test herself, who do not have to wait for her school to start offering it. If the school does offer ASSET, it is now possible to practice taking a similar exam before appearing for the test at school! One can monitor the student's progress more than once a year, by sim-ply going online and taking a new test.

Being an online test, ASSETOnline tests are not taken under uniform supervised conditions. Understandably, individual scores cannot become a measure of competitive performance. Scores however have high diagnostic value when the tests are taken honestly by the student.

The Road Ahead for the Student After children go through the test, a skill profile chart is prepared based on the child's performance. A check is made on what a child lacks and what are his/her strengths. This further analyses the level of the child's proficiency in different subjects. A skill-wise analysis gives a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses and helps the student focus on improvement.

The Road ahead for the Teacher

The ASSET team visits schools where the participation has been of a sizable number of students to ensure that the data is statistically valid and conducts a post-ASSET analysis with the teachers. This session aims at increasing the teachers' familiarity with the analysis and offers teachers a clearly laid out plan of what to do in the year. Suggestions  like preparation of a Skill-Book for specific skills chosen for improvement, are given to the teachers.

In addition to the above sessions, the ASSET team organises two-day workshops on “Design and Implementation of a Skill-based Curriculum”. These workshops are aimed at helping the teacher become familiar with cutting-edge theories such as “Understanding by Design” and implement them in their classrooms.

Participating in ASSET

To participate in ASSET, a student has to register through respective school. ASSET is offered to the schools as an option to participate in July or in December. Schools are valuing the feedback and realising that the analysis validity increases if more students participate. Therefore schools like Kumarans, Bangalore, Sishu Griha, Hosur, Gear Innovative are including the test as a part of their curriculum and ensuring that parents are involved in the process so that they also understand the rationale behind the tests. But there are schools that make the test optional also.

A lot of schools have appreciated the clarity and usefulness of the analysis and are fully supporting the programme. The growth of ASSET in the past three years from 14 schools in December 2001 to more than 1000 schools in December 2007 is an indicator of its wide acceptance across CBSE, ICSE and State board schools.

Features

For students of classes 3-10

  • Core Subjects: English, Maths and Science
  • Optional Subjects: Social Studies and Hindi
  • Based on the Indian curriculum (CBSE, ICSE and state boards)
  • Detailed Skill-wise feedback with customized letter for every student
  • Conducted in the school during school hours
  • Schools choose to take the test in Summer (July-August) or Winter (December)

Power of ASSET

The power of ASSET does not end with detailed feedback and benchmarking provided to students. It offers many tangible benefits to teachers and schools:

  • it allows SCHOOLS to benchmark themselves against the best and identify areas requiring improvement
  • it provides TEACHERS insights into where exactly their students are weak compared to the national average or another section or school
  • it allows SCHOOLS to focus on initiatives like teacher training in the areas where they are needed the most
  • it provides concrete ideas to teachers of questions that can be used to improve assessment methods
  • detailed skill-training and other workshops are also offered free to schools with ASSET. 

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