One of the most mind-boggling questions facing every education policy maker is, how can we structure our education system in a way that makes it inclusive of the unique abilities of every student? As much as that question sounds ideal, it comes with its fair share of complexities where educators will have to weigh out the pros and cons of inclusivity before fully endorsing it. This research question aims at exploring to what extent do standardized tests help in identifying good teachers? To further analyse this question, this paper will be looking at the structure of the Indian National Eligibility Test that thousands of aspirants take twice year to be eligible to lecture in degree colleges across the country. There are various problems in the types of questions asked in the NET exam and this paper will draw a couple of sample questions from an English NET paper to further understand the intricacies around certain questions.
While looking at the body of knowledge around the topic of standardized testing in teacher education, it was interesting to note that there was endless research done on how standardized tests in schools effected teaching methods and a lot of papers looked at standardized testing in testing the knowledge of students. Interestingly what was missing was what education theorists had to say about what goes into identifying good teaching and some clarity on standardized tests in teacher education. As the paper focuses on looking at the NET exam as an example to understand how higher education in India is affected by how their teaching aspirants and lecturers are tested. This paper aims to pinpoint the emerging problems with the NET exam and look at possible solutions that can tackle this problem with regard to recruiting English lecturers for university education.
‘The Effects of High Stakes Testing on Teachers in New Jersey’ by Sylvia Bulgar of Rider University, is an article that throws light on an important debate in the teaching community, whether to use new teaching methods or stick to traditional teaching methods that would help students get good scores when they undertook standardized tests. The article suggests through a study conducted on students to see if the method of teaching mattered on how students performed in standardized tests revealed, all of the students in that sample scored percentiles ranging between 80s to high 90s even though they didn’t devote time to procedural learning in the form of algorithms and no time was spent specifically preparing for the test. The concluding statement of this study was that teachers and school administrators will be successful in teaching student’s mathematics using inquiry and discovery over didactic methods and the students will perform well irrespective using their sense of inquiry and experience. The study also brought to light professional teachers who teach to the test in spite of knowing that it goes against their beliefs, while younger teachers were willing to try new techniques without inhibitions. Apart from the above points of discussion, the article calls for standardized tests to be updated and restructured to cater to the needs of students and the education community (Bulgar, 2012). This article is important as it encourages teachers to adopt less traditional methods of teaching, also it is helpful in showing up the Indian standardized test that sticks to rote learning and traditional ways of preparing for the NET exam.
Jen Jackson, Raymond J Adams, Ross Turner authored an article published online by ‘The Conversation’ titled ‘Evidence – based education needs Standardized Assessment’ that looks at how standardized tests contribute important information for education reform and policy. The article that was published on the 27th of November, 2017 puts the Australian NAPLAN test in focus and suggests that the test contributes data that can estimate the costs of quality school education in Australia and gives policy makers a bird’s eye view into educational practice. According to the article the test is meant for comparison and not competition although the negative effects of the test gives rise to competition and pressurizes students to perform well to get into a school of high repute. The NAPLAN test cannot measure a Childs progress and learning as a teacher would do gradually day to day. The article’s concluding thoughts are that tests like NAPLAN, PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS can use its data to guide school improvement but there is room for change in all these standardized tests (Jackson et al., 2017) Reform seems to be the message that is loud and clear for most standardized tests to alleviate stress, unhealthy competition and look at identifying more tangible skills that these tests cannot evaluate.
‘What Standardized testing doesn’t tell us about learning’ by Nilesh Nimkar published online on IDR on the 28th of May, 2019 throws light on how marginalized children in Mumbai learn differently but may not show up as being academically competitive on standardized tests. Interesting enough is that these children were found to have known how to multiply but they failed in memorizing their tables, yet they understood the concept. Sadly, many teachers expect children to learn in a set standard way which is not the case with children. One cannot draw conclusions by saying that these children don’t meet the grade, but they simply do it differently in a way that is different from how children from urban households learn. In this case a test needs to be suited to the cultural background and environment in which the students hail from. Nilesh Nimkar brings out the need to invest more in teachers and to change the way we test in India. His idea seems one that is plausible to meet the needs of a diverse education system. Even higher education would have to look at a viable way of testing aspiring lecturers placing emphasis on skills that cannot be evaluated through a standardized test (Nimkar, 2019)
There is some hope in Manavi Kapur’s article titled ‘India’s culture of high stakes testing needs to be dismantled’ published online on October 25th, 2019. Kapur’s article introduces the group of private start ups that are trying to put an end to India’s poisonous testing regime. One such start up called ‘Educational Initiatives’ that are trying to bring in change by testing based on analysis rather than memory. “400,000 students in 3000 private Indian schools take the ASSET test according to ‘Educational Initiatives’. But it doesn’t replace the compulsory government exams every Indian high school student takes in year 10 and 12” (Kapur, 2019). The idea of having the ASSET test is wonderful as it leans towards analysis but its success is short lived with an over powering governmental education policy.
‘A Global Curriculum? Understanding Teaching and Learning in the United States, Taiwan, India, and Mexico’ by Ervin F. Sparapani, David Callejo Perez, Jonathon Gould, Susan Hillman and LaCreta Clark published in 2014 is an article that looks at educational trends in different countries but sees the need of well-crafted teacher education. “A final recommendation is that we must rethink field experience as a culminating activity, where the candidate is immersed in the classroom at the end of their learning to practice their skills. Teacher preparation candidates must be in schools early in their programs, so that they can be mentored by highly effective teachers, and work with students, while continually applying their learning to the classroom. In this way, “new” teachers are not so new to the realities of teaching and learning, but rather familiar and competent as a result of “doing learning” over the course of the preparation program” (Sparapani et al., 2014). With the various issues that prop up in a classroom, be it teachers teaching using outdated methods, an outdated syllabus, language barriers etc one element is most important in this article and that being a need for significant change in education policy and allowing teacher trainees to have more experience in real classrooms to develop their skills and learn on the job. This element of experience needs to be added to the selection system of selecting lecturers for Indian higher education.
“Here in the twenty-first century, we live in a global society. In that global society, countries are very competitive. Countries want their people to be productive citizens. Countries also want their citizens to think critically and creatively. It is the responsibility of education to teach people what they need to know in order to be productive citizens. In order to make sure that educators do what the country wants them to do, governments have mandated standards and benchmarks that, in the educational systems, have evolved into standardized curricula. We do not believe that traditional instructional practices that are conducive to standardized learning environments spawn productive citizens or produce critical and creative thinkers” (Sparapani et al., 2015). As quoted above in ‘A Perspective on the Standardized Curriculum and Its Effect on Teaching and Learning’ by Ervin F. Sparapani and David M. Callejo Perez, it is vital to not treat students like they are all alike and will fall in line with a fixed education system. The analogy drawn between the relationship between patient and doctor to that of a teacher and student seems to makes sense but with the irregularities in medicine today, one can only be sceptical. The article was referring to how doctors prescribe medicine based on the ailment and unique condition of the patient, so in turn teachers should craft their teaching methodology to suit their pupils needs. Catering to the unique abilities of every student isn’t easy and has its limitations, while looking at standardized tests one will have to evaluate students with different abilities based on a test that will best cater to their needs. This article touches on the element of having syllabus that is creative, alive and well crafted but this can only be possible to a certain extent and when put to large Indian classrooms it would be difficult to put to practice but in that given situation, teachers need to see how best they can tweak the syllabus, make it more interaction based.
Coming closer to the heart of this paper that addresses standardized testing in teacher education in India. Prateek Vijayavargia in his article published by the Hindustan Times titled, ‘The NET exam is ruining higher education in India’ looks at the test that is in dire need of reform but suggests that the NET looks at adopting the pattern of testing used by SAT’s and GRE tests. The form of testing writing and language in SAT’s may seem like it can be adopted but it still leaves out critical skills of presentation, classroom management, previous research experience when it comes to testing aspiring lecturers (Vijayavargia, 2017). “University Grants Commission policy of declaring 6% of candidates who appear in both papers and obtain minimum qualifying marks in aggregate of both papers is unconstitutional as it is arbitrary, unreasonable and not satisfying the test of reasonableness under article 14 of the constitution of India. Previously UGC (University Grants Commission) allowed a total of 15% of those candidates who appear in NET to be qualified. This defeats the purpose of eligibility and makes it appear to be more of a competitive exam”. These important points were duly and justly stated in Gazala Parveen’s article ‘Faculty crunch in India and 6% criteria for qualifying UGC National Eligibility Exam’, published on 15th November 2019 on Pleaders Intelligent Legal Solutions (Parveen, 2019).
Shubhda Chaudhary touches on areas that are bound to hurt the Indian education system but its constructive criticism for a progressive future. She deliberates carefully over the NET exam and the position of research in the country. She finds the test one that fails to evaluate the thought process, questioning, lectureship and ideation skills of a candidate. She finds western universities giving more importance to both qualitative and quantitative research methods and are growing closer towards interdisciplinary research and are creating new departments that look at new courses to fit the needs of the student and the world right now. There are stiff comments on the lack of funding for social science research in India as the process is strenuous and requires a couple of years for data collection, sampling etc in the initial stages. Many researchers give up work that may not have quality control because they lack funds and exposure to quality resources. She finds research scholars of the present more anxious about cracking the NET than thinking about analysis, new theories, interdisciplinary research and practical implications of their study. Indian researchers who have had western exposure are highly critical of the eligibility test and find themselves looking for greener pastures to further their skills and practice as India isn’t catering to those needs. These ideas are fledged out in her article titled ‘Is cracking the UGC NET A Sheer Waste of Time?’, published online by The Citizen on the 5th of April 2017 (Chaudhary, 2017).
‘Caught in NET’ by Divya Kannan and Saqib Khan published in ‘The Economic and Political Weekly’ on the 8th of March, 2014 picks out sample questions from the NET exam and shows the reader how problematic the test is. One such question that appeared in June 2013 exam reads, “At the primary school stage, most of the teachers should be women because they: a) can teach children better than men; b) know basic content better than men; c) are available on lower salaries; d) can deal with children with love and affection” (Kannan &Khan, 2014). The above question isn’t only stereotypical but is sexist as well. It is precisely questions like these that need to picked on and highlighted for their error cause unconsciously these questions reinforce incorrect assumptions about gender etc.
This literature review doesn’t just serve as a proof of what is done in this area of knowledge but it also contributes allied ideas and strong opinions. Active ideas from how teaching doesn’t need to stay traditional for students to do well in standardized tests, to moving away from a standardized syllabus, to the need for an effective education policy and culminating in a group of Indian writers that have critically analysed the NET exam as stated in the above paragraphs. It is my earnest wish that this literature review leads to some interesting research in this area of question that will provide reform to the system given a chance. It is the need of the hour for the Indian education system of testing for lectureship.