Learning from Grade 6 National Assessment in Cambodia: Policies and Strategies
Grade Six National Student Assessment Results
A standardized student assessment is an integral part of evaluating the education system of a country and for making comparisons at the international level. In Cambodia, the standardized student assessment, though still a new concept, plays a vital role in informing key policies and practices in the midst of resource and human capital constraints. The Education Quality Assurance Department (EQAD) of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) is the key body in charge of the implementation of current national assessment of grades 3, 6 and 8 which was initiated in 2007.The evidence from the national assessment is meant to provide a systematic support for the end users in the system such as the Curriculum Development Department, the Teacher Training Department, the Primary Education Department, the Secondary Education Department and others. In the absence of the standardized student assessment, it is difficult, though not impossible, to envisage policy performance, progress and associated challenges. This article discusses the grade 6 national assessment results and presents the lessons learnt and strategies that may contribute to enhance student learning in Cambodia.
The grade 6 national assessment was conducted in 2016 with a nationally representative sample of 5939 students from 210 schools, measuring student performance and progress in Khmer (reading and writing) and mathematics. Results showed that mathematics scores have more improvement over the years, from 489 in 2013 to 519 in 2016, while reading has remained about the same, approximately at 504. Despite this, average student achievement in both subjects has yet to reach desired proficiency levels. Significant student achievement gaps persisted, with rural students still at disadvantage. Students had problems in acquiring some basic aspects of reading comprehension, such as identifying the aim of text, adverbs of questions, and synonyms, while in writing apology letter writing, dictation, and permission form completion were
problematic. In mathematics, geometry, measurement, and number proved to be difficult. Of these results, rural students, especially those from low socio-economic background (SES), performed even worse, with more than half of them still at below basic and basic proficiency levels. These results call for timely and effective actions and approaches to close the student achievement gaps as a way to ensure equitable growth in the country.
Lessons Learnt from the Grade 6 National Assessment
The national assessment has offered some meaningful lessons for the MoEYS, especially for EQAD, to reflect on what can be done further to improve education practices. This ranges from the capacity-building experience learnt from the national assessment process to the broadened understanding of core problems in the curriculum and textbooks (e.g., the disconnect of contents/sub-contents across school years), student learning assessment and, most importantly, the use of its results in improving policy/program implementation.
The involvement in the national assessment cycle has enabled both policymakers and line departments to re-emphasize misalignment issues in curriculum, textbooks and teaching and has helped the Ministry to find ways to better achieve the expected learning outcomes in each education cycle. The national assessment is not only a learning-by-doing platform for a single entity, but also a constant reflection of the whole education system in Cambodia through its results and usage of those results. To make improvements, the national assessment has to go through a highly comprehensive process of designing and administering the test, and ensuring effective use of its result, involving all relevant entities/departments and Cambodia is making effort in this regard. All being said, the conduct of the national assessment has become a major breakthrough in Cambodia’s education evaluation ever since and has been well integrated into the national Education Strategic Plan.
An Imperative for the Country’s Development
Ensuring that students have equitable access to quality education is crucial to secure learning opportunities for all. Widening gaps in academic achievement are affecting not only individual growth, but also the capacity of the country to move up the economic ladder. With less education, the marginalized and disadvantaged populations, particularly rural children, are more likely to drop out of school and to have low income, which would have negative implications for the country as a whole.
The following policies and strategies drawn from the grade 6 national assessment results can revive the current learning discourse and reduce the student achievement gaps:
- Improve incentives and supportive mechanisms (e.g., scholarships and reading materials) for poor children.
- Support rural schools to promote super-child-friendly schools (CFS), with lessons learnt/distilled from the New Generation Schools (NGS)—a model public school developed in the urban areas of Cambodia to showcase the super-child-friendly school.
- Improve spending efficiency by allocating more budget to rural schools.
- Ensure Decentralization and De-concentration (D & D) policy in education involves private sector or enterprise in each province (Public-Private Partnership Model) as a way to secure more funds for marginalized and disadvantaged students.
- Narrow focus on effective, context-based teaching strategies for teaching less frequent and difficult material.
- Align textbooks with curriculum by creating the textbook development framework to ensure the continuum of learning contents by each curriculum cycle.
- Develop teaching manuals to support the current curriculum framework which embodies knowledge, skills and attitude (KSA).
- Improve classroom-based assessment and identify weaknesses in school inspection systems.
Dr. Heng Kreng, National Consultant, EQAD, [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Mr. Sar Sarin, Chief Officer, EQAD, [email@example.com]
Mr. Khou Hav, Vice Chief Officer, EQAD, [firstname.lastname@example.org]
For more information, please contact
Mr. Ung Chinna, Director, EQAD, [ung.chinna @ moeys.gov.kh]
Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (http://www.moeys.gov.kh/en/home.html)
Grade Six National Assessment Findings in 2016 (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1ekqZE5ZIUJNzFGSTlRcm9qY1E/view)
 Scaled scores, with 500 as the benchmark scores, were used for comparison across years 2007, 2013 and 2016.
 Four performance standards (below basic, basic, proficient and advanced) were developed by ranking the level of item difficulty and classified using the IRT analysis.