Background

Before you start reading this article, I would like you to perform a simple task. Ready? Think of a chapter that you want to teach students. Can you list down everything that you would do as part of your chapter planning process? Take a few minutes to do this. Once you are done, continue reading further.

Now that you have listed down your plan, check whether an assessment features on that list? Most educators that I know would never underestimate the power of a good and effective assessment in the learning cycle. If it features in yours, congratulations! Now look back again, how early does it feature in the process?

More often than not, we believe that an assessment is an indicative tool for educators to understand the learning gaps and misconceptions. This could either be at the end of the learning process (summative) or during it (formative). However, they only tell us about what and how much students have learned. Monitoring & Evaluation of a plan itself is essential but we mostly overlook its importance. Review your plan and check whether it leaves enough space to address questions like –

  1. How effective were your pedagogical interventions?
  2. Which misconceptions were largely removed due to the intervention?
  3. What do students already know that is essential to master this new concept?

To be able to address these questions, we use baseline/endline tests at Ei. They are an effective tool to statistically analyse the pedagogical interventions that one incorporates in the learning process.

But wait, what exactly are baseline/endline tests?

A baseline/endline test is a paired assessment that is taken by the students immediately before they are taught a learning unit and again after it, with roughly half of the questions being identical between them. They are specifically designed to cover all of the topics that the students shall be learning during the unit. While taking the baseline-test, it is important to know that the students are NOT expected to know the answers to all of the questions. Nevertheless, they are expected to utilize their existing knowledge to provide rational answers. While taking the endline test at the end of the unit, students are expected to answer based on the increase in knowledge and understanding, as a direct result of the intended pedagogical intervention. A comparative study of students’ performance on the two tests shall reveal a number of valuable pieces of information with respect to students’ learning, such as:

  1. mastery levels in the pre-requisite topics
  2. Concepts that have been successfully mastered
  3. Misconceptions that still persist and need remediation
  4. Extent of improvement for each concept
  5. Impact of specific pedagogical structures/tools

That being said, it is also essential to keep in mind that since they are a paired test, as such the testing conditions for both baseline test as well as endline test should be identical. Therefore, one must ensure that both tests –

  1. have same number of questions.
  2. are conducted in the same time duration.
  • have identical questions for the core concepts.
  1. have non-core concepts tested with questions of same difficulty levels.
  2. are conducted without prior announcements to avoid bias due to exam specific preparation (teaching-to-test).

Interesting! How does Ei use baseline & endline tests effectively at scale?

Ei believes that learning is most impactful when it is backed by data and thorough analysis. As we work towards building a conducive environment to make learning effective, we regularly spend our time and energy in monitoring the impact that our content has on the learning outcomes of the students. We subdivide content into topics/chapters, and design baseline & endline tests to measure learning gains.

For each teacher topic, we list all learning competencies related to the topic mapped to the relevant curriculum (like CBSE, ICSE etc.) These competencies are then further classified as either “enduring area of understanding”, “important to know” or “worth being familiar with”; an exercise that is rooted in the ‘Understanding by Design’ framework suggested by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book by the same name (published in 2005).

Once classified, the endline test is created by designing questions for each competency, keeping in mind the principles of effective multiple choice questions or free response questions. It is beneficial to create the endline test before a baseline test, considering the tenets of backward planning, which focuses on planning the steps of the plan based on the desired outcomes at the first piece of the foundation. From the endline test, a baseline test is designed where all competencies that classify as “enduring area of understanding” are retained as they are, while others may be modified slightly without impacting the difficulty level of the question. Voila, now we have a baseline & endline test!

The pair is assigned to the topic/chapter, such that the baseline-test is conducted before any intervention through content, and the endline-test is conducted once content intervention is completed. Data is collected periodically to analyze student performance, and insights about learning gaps are extracted. These insights are then looped back into Ei’s efforts to improve our content. Thus, it leads to a virtuous cycle of improvement and evolution towards more scientifically-backed learning outcomes.

Figure 1 (above): The process cycle to implement baseline/endline tests

As an example, see the overall statistics below based on the data that we gathered on the topic ‘Congruence of triangles’ for grade 7.

But can I use baseline & endline tests at a smaller scale?

Of course, you can! Since baseline & endline tests are much like any other assessment, – they are a set of questions conducted over a timed duration – it is not difficult to conduct the process on a smaller scale, with lesser number of students. The only thing that one must keep in mind is that the most important aspect of conducting baseline & endline tests is to gather valuable data and insights to evaluate the impact of a learning process. Hence, the criteria listed above in the article should be adhered to while designing the assessments, and the data must be collected with diligence.

For those who “excel” at using spreadsheets to manage their student assessment data, it shouldn’t be much of a difference. However, you don’t need to fret much even if you don’t. A bunch of online platforms like Kahoot, Quizizz etc. allow users to set up timed quizzes that can be taken by the students at their own convenience. These platforms also gather data and provide ready-to-use statistics that one can use for extracting insights.

With this article, I hope that you walk away with a reinforced understanding of how you can be more informed and more deliberate about planning your efforts in the classroom – understanding if they are making an impact and how can you improve them further. I would like to leave you with this witty, yet profound statement by famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, on the necessity of conducting regular monitoring & evaluation of your plan.