ANAs Debate: The assessments have to go ahead as planned

2015-10-05 12:30

The Annual National Assessments (ANAs) are fundamentally about literacy and numeracy. They are used as a helpful diagnostic tool and often reflect inefficiencies in teaching. The education system should be about effective learning and teaching, and we cannot continue with a system that is not performing optimally.

The ANAs are an effective tool for identifying challenges, measuring progress and monitoring interventions.

Over the past four years, the ANAs have generated several benefits that can be attested to by schools and pupils.

They have provided a national standard against which each pupil in the country can be measured. For the first time in South Africa and the post-1994 era, the ANAs have allowed for the development of a comprehensive diagnostic report for each grade and subject at a national, provincial and school level.

These reports have allowed for appropriate programmes to be implemented, targeting specific areas of weakness.

They have provided parents with a report on the performance of each pupil against a national yardstick, so they can be informed of their child’s performance levels.

They have provided the minister and managers of education with systemic assessment data about the national state of teaching and learning in basic education.

The basic education department has repeated its position on the evolving structure and format of the ANAs. In support of this, it published a draft policy on the ANAs for public comment in July this year. The comments are being analysed and will be incorporated into the redesign process.

The issues raised by the teachers’ unions concerning the ANAs are as follows, and a response is provided for each of these concerns:

. The tests are administered annually, so the system is not given enough time for remedial action.

This is acknowledged, but it must be noted that in all of the education department’s documents on the ANAs, it has been emphasised that the focus of the assessment is on grades 3, 6 and 9. The intention is to still limit the ANAs to specific grades in a cyclical duration.

. There is a need for a more intensive programme of teacher development to address the shortcomings identified through the ANAs.

The department continues to invest in teacher-development programmes. The diagnostic report from the ANAs is the basis for the development of support and intervention programmes and learning materials. There is scope for more extensive programmes in this area and this is being given top priority.

. The ANAs can only be written after they are remodelled.

The ANAs have been subjected to extensive scrutiny and capture the essence of the curriculum, so there is no sound basis to boycott the tests and suggest the ANAs can only be written after they are remodelled. It also needs to be noted that pupils and schools were prepared and geared to write the tests.

Their cancellation would be counterproductive to a system that is in urgent need of any intervention that will inject quality and improvement. This will not only be a financial loss, but a gross educational error.

The writing of the tests in December is a considered position and a better option than writing them next year. In the new year, pupils will have moved on to new grades and the tests will be evaluating the work done in the previous grade – which many pupils may regard as irrelevant – hence the push to write the tests in December when they will still be regarded as current.

The plan is to write the tests in December and mark them in January in the new school term. The findings and outcomes of these tests will provide valuable information for teachers in the child’s new grade. They will understand the knowledge gaps of these pupils and be equipped to plan learning programmes accordingly.

Some teachers have raised concerns about the value of writing the tests after pupils have completed their final exams in the subject. It must be understood that the purpose of these tests is mainly diagnostic. So the performance in the tests will help to identify the strengths and weaknesses of pupils. This will help in the design of the 2016 learning programme.

Mhlanga is spokesperson for the department of basic education
Read more on:    basic education

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