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Assessment Reforms in Bihar: In Conversation with Shri Sajjan R, IAS (Director, SCERT, Bihar)

In an interview with CSF, Shri Sajjan R, (Director of SCERT, Bihar), deliberates on how Bihar envisions the role of SCERT for assessments going forward, including the recently concluded baseline survey that aimed at understanding current learning levels of grade 2 children in the state. He also reflects on different interventions being planned for school-based assessments and large-scale assessments in Bihar.

Fig 1: Shri Sajjan R, IAS (Director SCERT, Bihar)

Q1. Bihar is among the first few states in India to have conducted a State Baseline Survey for Grade 2. What in your opinion are some of your key takeaways from the results of this survey?

The baseline survey for grade 2 is one of the key achievements of State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) Bihar, surveying 42,592 students in 1,572 schools across 38 districts. It has paved the way towards a comprehensive and detailed large-scale standardized assessment for foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) in the state. The key objective of the survey was to understand the current FLN levels of students and establish a baseline for students in grade 2. The findings of this survey will help in setting learning targets for teachers and students under the NIPUN Bharat Mission. 

Survey results indicate that the overall educational health status of grade 2 is worrisome. Nearly 50% of students cannot read a single correct word per minute and only 25% of students can identify all numbers correctly from the given numbers in the survey (up to 999).  

It was interesting to note that in literacy, students were performing relatively well on the pre-reading skills, i.e., listening comprehension and oral vocabulary. Approximately 89% students were able to answer half or more than half of the questions correctly for listening comprehension and about 92% students were able to answer half or more than half of the questions correctly for oral vocabulary. As the complexity of the questions increased, the performance downgraded; similar such trends were also seen in numeracy. 

Students are struggling with basic concepts. Since concepts in grades are spiral in nature, (one concept being related to another), understanding basics becomes key for children to jump to the next level of skill.

For early-grade children’s alphabets, numbers are abstract concepts, which is why there is a need to develop a variety of teaching learning material (TLM) for students so that they can learn through learning themselves. We need to look at things from a child’s perspective to understand their difficulty and challenges and accordingly re-design teaching-learning processes. SCERT is working on this and preparing an implementation plan based on the findings of the survey, so that all children in Bihar can achieve FLN skills.

Q2. What will be SCERT’s way forward approach after the baseline survey results are published?

SCERT recently conducted a two-day state-level workshop from 3-4 November 2022 for the dissemination of survey results and target setting for the state to achieve goals of the NIPUN Bharat Mission. Along with this, a planning exercise was conducted to prepare an implementation plan for the same.

Post the analysis of survey results in the workshop, key areas of concern were identified and accordingly targets for every year were set. To achieve these targets, interventions were planned along with their timelines in the planning exercise. 

Similar kinds of workshops will now be conducted in each district for further dissemination of the results; individual target setting of each district and along with their action plan will be developed for the same.

Q3. What are your thoughts on school-based assessments (SBA)? How does SCERT plan on implementing SBA in Bihar?

A school-based assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning process. Both formative and summative assessments are important and have their own purposes. Without regular formative assessments, a classroom transaction is incomplete. It is like a diagnosis that teachers need to do before, during and after teaching a lesson. The underlying principle of assessment is to help a teacher understand the learning levels of students, track student progress, design personalized interventions, and assess mastery across learning standards and competencies. If SBA is implemented in the right form, it will help teachers to improve the learning outcomes of  students by identifying their learning levels and how they can achieve the desired learning outcome. 

To implement SBA in the state, SCERT is developing a learning-outcome-based item bank for the teachers. This will help teachers to conduct formative assessments in classrooms. Along with this, SCERT is also developing a Holistic Progress Card (HPC) for all grades, as per the NEP 2020 guidelines; this progress card will help understand the holistic progress of students in all domains. 

Q4. Could you please share some of the internal structures/committees that the state has introduced to strengthen assessments in Bihar?

To strengthen the assessment process in the state, SCERT has formed a state assessment cell at SCERT. This committee comprises 16 members. To decentralize assessments, a similar cell is formed in all the District Institute for Education and Training (DIETs)/ Primary Teachers Education College (PTEC)/ College of Teacher Education (CTE) for better functioning and coordination. The key roles and responsibilities of the assessment cell are  to conduct achievement surveys, prepare test papers and item banks, train different stakeholders as per the need of the task, test administration, collect and analyze data, and report generation and dissemination of the results.

Q5. Do you think technology can play a significant role in assessments?

There is no doubt that technology can transform the assessment process; it can save a lot of time and could make the process easier and simpler. In the last baseline survey for grade 2, SCERT used the OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) sheets for assessment but now we are planning to adopt mobile apps for these kinds of surveys. These adoptions of technology will help track the educational progress of the state, through which preventive measures can be planned in a timely manner.

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