Tuesday, October 20, 2015

(The Unpredictable) Continuous Evaluation System In US High Schools

It is that phase of my life. My kids are in high school. You might have guessed it from the title. Being an immigrant to US (from India), I constantly compare my life in high school with my kids', and they cannot be more different.

The education system in India operated differently. Each grade had one final exam at the end of the year, and that's what counted! Every other test that we took or the home work that we did, such as class test, mid-term test, monthly test, quarterly test, etc... didn't count. They were just practices for the final exam. This is true from first grade to twelfth grade. Colleges provided admissions based on the final exam scores of the twelfth grade (and optionally a nationwide test for certain courses such as engineering and medicine was conducted by the government). It was a one time evaluation. We crammed for the final exam, but that's about it. In fact, the same methodology was followed in many colleges as well!

I was introduced to the continuous evaluation system only when I entered post-graduate degree course. Our university followed the semester system. In each semester, for each course, we had three assignments (or projects), three tests, one lab and one final exam. The schedule was given to us ahead of time. We had seven courses each semester. It was hard, but the hard life was at least predictable. We knew ahead of time when an assignment was due, or when a test was looming. We were able to prioritize and plan. The number of tests, assignments, lab is standardized across the university, for all courses. All colleges in that university followed the same continuous evaluation methodology.

Now, let me compare that with what's happening in my kids' lives. They are introduced to continuous evaluation in middle school, and it gets really serious in high school. They have six courses per semester and each teacher hands out varying numbers of assignments, projects, and tests. When I look at the "StandardScores Progress Report" of the Lake Washington School District, I do not see much standard. Grade for each course is comprised of different number of line items. Some of the courses have only five to ten line items, while some of them have more than fifty! Each grade is a weighted average of home work, assignments, projects, class participation, labs, tests and final exam. Each teacher has his/her own weightage system. Some teachers club home work and assignments together and give the weightage of 10%, while others combine assignments and projects together and give a weightage of 20%. Some teachers conduct pop quizzes, some don't. Some teachers provide for extra credits or retries, some don't. Imagine six different courses with varying number of tasks to complete each day! Yes, I know, this keeps the kids on their toes, but believe me, the amount of hard work a kid has to put in, just to maintain a reasonable grade is huge.

Sometimes I wonder if this is making them better citizens, may be or may be not. May be such a grueling schedule is required to make them knowledgeable, prepare them to compete in this dog-eat-dog world, or may be not. I don't know. Can this be standardized, with set schedules and make everyone's lives easier? Yes, I believe so, but I'll leave that one for the experts to answer.

Of course India doesn't want to be left behind. India's central board of education has introduced continuous and comprehensive evaluation system. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuous_and_Comprehensive_Evaluation Based on Wikipedia's information, I see that it is more standardized, with respect to number of assignments, quizzes and tests.

Feel free to give me feedback. Am I getting this high school system wrong?


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