Assessments For Learning

Background

In classrooms, Formative Assessment (FA) refers to frequent, interactive assessments of student progress and understanding to identify learning needs and adjust teaching appropriately. Formative assessment is usually referred to as ‘assessment for learning’ as opposed to the higher-stakes summative assessments – ‘assessment of learning’. The FA process followed by a teacher can be broken down into 5 steps as under:

assessment

There is a significant amount of research showing that formative assessments in classrooms improve learning outcomes. In a comprehensive literature review of formative assessments, Black and William note that “The gains in achievement appear to be quite considerable, and as noted earlier, among the largest ever reported for educational interventions.”

The same authors, in a 2001 Policy Brief, further note that “…..improved formative assessment helps the (so-called) low attainers more than the rest, and so reduces the spread of attainment whilst also raising it overall.” In a nutshell, effective use of Formative Assessments has the potential to improve learning outcomes for all children in a class while reducing the intra-class gap.

Landscape

Formative assessments have been part of the Indian schooling system in the form of Unit Tests, Cycle Tests or Mid-Term exams. But, it can be argued that these have not really been used effectively for formative purposes – namely to assess gaps in learning and address them systematically. Instead, they are often viewed as an administrative burden and/or as a ‘mini-summative’ high-stakes exam which feeds into the report card, but into little else. Further, most teachers have not been trained on design of formative assessments, analysis of data or targeted remedial action.

Section 29 of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE), mandates the “Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) of a child’s understanding of knowledge and his/her ability to apply the same”. The CCE is intended to be a non-threatening procedure to formatively assess a student’s progress through the course of a term using both pen-and-paper tests as well as projects / activities. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is very little understanding of the purpose, and implementation methods of CCE among the teaching community. Therefore, the current prevalence of effective formative assessments in Indian classrooms can be deemed to be negligible.

In terms of offerings, there are a few technology solutions in India, directly and tangentially aiding in the Formative Assessment process. We reached out to some of them, and tried to understand their product, business model, and approach and to assess their applicability in low-income settings. The table below lists a few products and indicates which part of the FA process they are involved in. It also indicates whether the company is for-profit or not and also whether they feed into the CCE in some way.

Company / Product For-Profit Defines Learning Objectives Designs Assessments Analyses Data Helps remediate Feeds into CCE
EI’s Detailed Assessments
Classalyze
SchoolCom
New Rubric
Fundamentor
LigaEdutech
XamCheck*
XSEED*

Problem Statement

There are currently very few non-profits focused on implementing an effective Formative Assessment (FA) solution for classrooms in low-income schools (Government / APS) in India.

A landscape study by CSF revealed that almost all companies providing this service were operating in the mid-high income school segment, and were all private, for-profit. Further, CSF’s hypothesis is that to truly close the loop on formative assessments, there might need to be (at least one-off) teacher capacity building efforts around data interpretation and effective differentiation. Currently, none of the solutions surveyed by us offers this feature.

Hypothesis / Solution

Some key elements of an FA solution for the low-income segment could include:

  • Easy-to-use scaffolded reliable assessments aligned to the curriculum to be administered in a paper-and-pen format
  • Meaningful activity-based Formative Assessments which aid in reinforcing learning
  • Integration with CCE, involving minimal teacher effort
  • Teacher training on effectively identifying and addressing learning gaps using FA

Challenges

Challenges could include:

  • Building a tech solution which is usable by teachers in low-income classrooms
  • Altering teacher mindsets and empowering them to use assessment data for addressing learning gaps, as opposed to evaluation of students
  • Smooth and accurate data collection from the assessments, not placing a demand on the teacher’s time
  • Designing and delivering meaningful teacher training modules around remediation
  • Generating a demand for this product among APSs