MINEDUC’s new guide on student assessment triggers debate

In a letter to all district mayors, dated June 18, 2019 Education Minister Dr. Eugene Mutimura issued new guidelines on how to conduct student assessment in primary, secondary, technical and vocational training schools as well as teacher training colleges; this, in line with the January 28, 2019 Cabinet resolution establishing ‘comprehensive assessment for all basic level education’ in Rwanda.’

The resolution by the government is aimed at improving both the quality of teaching and learning as a way of advancing Rwanda’s agenda of becoming a knowledge-based economy. The comprehensive assessment model adopted by the Cabinet in January has three key levels; they include…

Classroom assessment (conducted by teachers at the end of lesson and end of unit/topic); end of term assessment (conducted by schools with technical assistance from trained staff at district level) and end of year assessments (to be national exams and sample based assessments).

While the new assessment model doesn’t remove end of cycle national examinations for Primary Six, Senior 3 and 6 as well as Year-3 for teacher training colleges and Level 5 for TVETs, it introduces new measures that appear to be significantly altering the current status-quo.

The new model appears to reduce the involvement of teachers and schools in conducting the end of term student assessment and this is causing significant debate among stakeholders including school administrators, teachers and education development partners.

Over 140 education stakeholders including teachers from different schools around the country spent the weekend at a Kigali based hotel, debating and securitizing the Ministry of Education’s new directives on student assessment with some showing concern over the teacher’s reduced role in learner evaluation.

The Teacher Training Program (TTP), a residential workshop organized by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), is aimed at collecting views of education stakeholders to inform a collective stakeholder response to the ministry’s new comprehensive assessment model.

But isn’t this a little too late considering that there is already a cabinet resolution to implement? Assuming the stakeholders reject some of the directives, can the ministry rescind them? How deep were stakeholders involved in the process to formulate the ‘comprehensive assessment model’?

I took time to look at the new ministry’s directives and this is what I found;

Regarding classroom level assessment, the directive appears to maintain the current status-quo, asking teachers and trainers to ‘regularly collect information to monitor and respond to learners’ learning process.’ The directive orders teachers to conduct daily learner assessments at the end of every lesson.

On End-of-Unit (topic) assessment, the directive asserts that teachers must ensure that standards set under the ‘Competence Based Curriculum (CBC) are achieved.

Therefore, at the end of every topic, teachers are required to assess the learners and use their performance to gauge whether they attained the desired competence or not, to inform remedial action. Teacher-student feedback is highly recommended and that marks obtained by students should be recorded and aggregated into end of term performance.

It’s on end-of-term assessment, which involves paper setting, administration, marking and giving feedback that the status-quo begins to be altered. According to the directive; under the comprehensive assessment system, every subject will be assessed at the end of the term to ensure learners receive remedial feedback.

While End of Term-One assessment will be prepared and conducted at school level, End-of-Term-Twowill be the responsibility of trained technical staff at the district level. This is new status-quo and is a cause of major debate among teachers and school administrators.

“The district education staff will establish assessment teams of trained teachers for every subject, grade and level. Each subject team will be composed of three trained teachers with good command of language, content mastery and information communication technology skills,” says the directive.

Having three subject experts for each subject in all districts across the country means massive recruitment; this will certainly stretch the education ministry administrative budget by a couple of billions to facilitate the new human resources required to implement the comprehensive assessment model.

Each district subject assessment team will be mandated to develop two exams accompanied by detailed and clear marking scheme; the assessment would cover content only covered during Term-Two.

The two proposed End-of-Term-Two subject assessment papers and marking schemes are then submitted to the respective district leadership, at least two weeks before the examination sitting; trained district education staff conduct quality assurance checks and pick one of the two papers as the official assessment.

According to the directive, the approved paper is then kept with high confidentiality and only sent to respective schools at least a week before the sitting by respective students.

End-of-Term-Three assessment under the new directive will be prepared and conducted at national level by the Rwanda Education Board (REB) in collaboration with Workforce Development Authority (WDA). The assessments by these three agencies will cover all three terms (One to Three).

What is clear is that the new assessment system will create a new form of checks and balances and will keep both students and teachers under considerable pressure, preparing for external examinations for second and third terms, that will be set at district and national levels, respectively.

School administrators and teachers appear to be skeptical on the expected benefits of this new system. It is also likely to suffer administrative challenges that may mar successful implementation. As usual, time will be the best judge.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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