What can National Achievement Testing 2017 data tell us? Student performance in grades 4 and 8 in Pakistan
The National Education Assessment System (NEAS) of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training of Pakistan has been conducting national achievement testing (NAT) of students completing grades 4 and 8 since 2005, with a regular NEAS budget. The latest round was conducted in 2017 and its findings were disseminated on January 24 and 25, 2018 at a two-day national stakeholders’ conference in Islamabad. The conference was attended by academics, practitioners, researchers, heads of Examination Boards, heads of teacher-training institutions, heads of Education Foundations, policy-makers, representatives of NGOs/INGOs, developmental partners and others.
NAT 2017 tested mathematics as well as Urdu and Sindhi languages (reading and writing) for grade 4 and science and English (reading and writing) for grade 8. The NEAS measurement scale used for student achievement is 0 - 1000 with scaled mean score of 500 and standard deviation of 100 (see Figure 1).
The test was developed according to the national assessment framework reflecting required competencies and cognitive skills in each subject area. Along with the subject tests, NEAS also administered a broad array of background questionnaires to collect data on the educational context for student achievement. The questionnaires took into account assessment experts’ inputs on the overall structure and nature of questions in order to make them more relevant for policy and practice. The questionnaires were administered tostudents, parents, teachers and head teachers.
Students and Parents’ Questionnaires: The students answered questions related to their attitudes towards the tested subjects, their academic self-concept, classroom activities, co-curricular activities, home background and out-of-school activities. Parents answered questions regarding their education, occupation and their children's in-house activities as well as the performance of teachers who taught their children.
Teachers’ Questionnaire: The subject teachers of the sampled students responded to questions about teaching on the themes in the curricula, their instructional practices, professional training and education, and their views on the tested subjects.
Head Teachers’ Questionnaire: The heads of schools responded to questions about the teaching force, school resources, school infrastructure, and teacher and parental support.
A two-stage stratified random cluster sampling was used for the test. In the first stage, 1,500 schools (750 for grade 4 and 750 for grade 8) were selected from four provinces and four regions, while in the second stage, 30,000 students were randomly selected from the sampled schools. A maximum of 20 students was randomly chosen from each sample school. The response rates in grades 4 and 8 were 100% and 99.87% respectively.
The analyses were conducted separately for grades 4 and 8 by province/region, gender, location, school zone, medium of instruction and type of schools. The findings revealed that there was an overall improvement in performance in all three subject areas at both grades. At the provincial/regional level, some provinces performed well in most of the subjects. However, there were disparities in achievement at the province/region level in relation to school type, gender and location. It was also observed that some of the provinces that did not perform well in national assessments in 2014 improved in 2017.
The grade 4 students from schools where the medium of instruction is the Urdu or Sindhi languages performed better than those who are taught in English. Moreover, girls performed better than boys, while urban schools scored higher than rural schools in both grades 4 and 8. Students from schools located in the summer zone performed better than those in the winter zone. The students involved in co-curricular activities performed better in all subject areas in both grades. Students who were confident about their mathematics, languages and science ability, or those who enjoyed a subject, scored more highly than their counterparts. More interestingly, students who took paid extra tuition did significantly worse than those who did not take such tuition in science and reading. Perhaps weak students were the ones taking extra tuition.
The NAT 2017 findings provided empirical evidence to policy-makers in each province or region so that they can revisit system-level policies that are hindering education quality and equity. They also serve as leverage to continue the discussion among education stakeholders about NAT and its implications for policy and practice in Pakistan.
Written by: Syed Kamal-Ud-Din, National Education Assessment System, Ministry of Federal Education & Professional Training, Pakistan
For more information, please contact: Syed Kamal-Ud-Din [email@example.com]
Photo credit: ©NEAS/Kamal