Distance learning is challenging DepEd to rethink its ways of assessment

Nov. 03, 2020

A photo showing parents supposedly answering modules for their children did not escape the “memeverse.” A screenshot of an online exchange, supposedly among some parents, as to who among them was going to top the class in place of their children further displayed the already crazy state of distance learning in the Philippines. The Department of Education could not be more aware of the likelihood of this scenario. Back in August, Undersecretary Diosdado Antonio already said that distance learning is a “perfect time” to teach students honesty.

Almost admitting that the existing system does not at all encourage honesty among learners, DepEd has to, for once, confront the problem staring at them in the face: How is the system of student assessment adapting with distance learning?

Pre-pandemic, the existing system of student assessment was already questionable. It put learners under constant assessment for assessment’s sake. In the distance learning setup, this may turn for the worse.

To address this pressing concern on student assessment, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers – Philippines, in a statement last August, appealed to the Department of Education to temporarily replace the numerical grading system with that of Pass/Fail. The latter quickly rejected the call, apparently without giving it much thought. DepEd argued that numerical grades would make learners achieve expectations of “better performance not only for national assessments but [also] international assessments.”

In DepEd Order no. 31 released on October 2, the agency claimed “leniency to learners who are put to a larger disadvantage by the pandemic, but at the same [time] does not compromise the integrity and principles of assessment and grading.” Forgoing quarterly assessments (i.e., periodic exams), this year’s grading components for Grades 1-10 consist of Written Works and Performance Tasks given 40/60, 50/50, or 30/70 percentage weight distribution depending on the subject.

Written works are in the form of quizzes and long/unit tests while performance tasks are in the form of skill demonstrations, group presentations, oral work, multimedia presentations and the like. While DepEd has mentioned how “technology can help” in carrying out remote assessment, it seems to have forgotten to mention how distance learning challenges student assessment and importantly how it exposes the long-standing problems of existing assessment systems.

In face-to-face classes, students are able to ask questions for clarification or probing. In online distance learning, this interaction between teacher and students can be very limited as consultations still depend on resources. It can even be absent in modular distance learning. DepEd TV can be an enrichment for the module but it still cannot answer students’ questions as they arise. That leaves the student asking for help from his/her parents or guardians whose capacity to help also depend on their background. In this case, it is also a must for parents to be given teaching guides on how to assist in the studies of their children. Now what does a high score on written tests mean in distance learning other than having a reliable internet resource and a highly educated household which oftentimes go together?

Performance tasks often display collaboration among learners in face-to-face classes. Sometimes it is even no longer about the outcome but the interaction among them—how they brainstorm, designate assignments, fulfill tasks, troubleshoot problems, resolve conflicts, and collectively achieve a common goal. As distance learning renders this very difficult, if not impossible, assessment of performance becomes limited to an individual display of skills.

In provision 17.C, DepEd reminds that “learners must be given flexibility in the accomplishment of the performance tasks to consider time and resources available to them.” What if learners have different resources and learning modalities as is the case in some schools? Will the same rubric be used for them? How will “flexibility” be exercised in the context of a standardized grading system?

Ultimately, what do the questionable if not entirely erroneous modules consistently making rounds online say about DepEd besides that it should assess itself first?

Recently, a young student was lauded for not subscribing to gender stereotypes written in her module. Instead of boxing toys played by boys and encircling toys played by girls, she boxed and encircled all toys claiming that all can be played by both sexes. Given that not all students possess such relatively advanced worldview, assessments in cases like this will likely be a matter of following directions.

And what about those who cannot question the biases of tests which outnumber those who can? How will they respond to this another viral module question: “If given the chance, will you join this rally? Why or why not?” to which the correct answer is: “No because the government has [been] really doing [its] best for all the Filipino people…”?

Besides all the already publicized technical errors, what kind of worldview is being taught and translated into student assessment? Is this the same worldview that dictates the necessity of assessing students despite the obvious impediments to learning?

If DepEd were to make sense, now is the “perfect time” for honesty—from their end. The agency has to admit that the absence of teacher supervision makes learners primarily responsible for their own learning progress. Now is the perfect time to strengthen and trust the process of self-assessment. Instead of requiring teachers to check and grade student submissions pile after pile, folder after folder, it would make more sense if students get empowered to track their own learning progress and report it to the teacher. The teacher can then give feedback especially on suggested study habits tailored for their situation at home.

I previously argued that the pandemic is a portal to make educational reforms. We can make a good start with the principles of assessment and grading. (davaotoday.com)

Roma Estrada has taught for ten years in different high schools and universities. She also writes for Gantala Press, Ibong Adorno, and Concerned Artists of the Philippines. Currently maintaining a column for Davao Today, she also co-edited LILA, a poetry anthology by women, and Kult, a collection of capsule critiques. Her other works can be read in the anthologies Umaalma, Kumikibo (Gantala Press, 2018) and Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines, forthcoming from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press. Reach her at romaamor01@gmail.com.

comments powered by Disqus