Dialogue  April-June, 2011, Volume 12 No. 4

Evaluation and Examination

B.P. Khandelwal*

Education has all along been and continues to be an amalgam of teaching and testing enterprises.  In this context, while the central stage has come to be occupied by “teaching”, “testing” often remains relegated to the background as an end of the process ritual.  The purpose of the present effort is not to highlight this shortfall, but to better visualize the meaning and significance of examinations and evaluation, in ethos of the total backdrop.

The two terms of evaluation and examination not only deserve to be understood but more so distinguished for being appreciated. While the purpose of the Examination is to identify the level of attainment at a particular point of time, that of the Evaluation is to further improve the level of attainment. With regard to coverage, while the latter tends to mainly focus on the academic and scholastic aspects of personality, the former attempts to bring within its purview the total personality of the student including the co-scholastic aspects. With regard to periodicity, while examination consists of events at fixed points of time, the former assumes the form of a process spread over the total span of the teaching and learning. The status of the individual student in the latter is that of an incognito roll number, while the former treats him as a human being of flesh and blood. The techniques and tools pressed into service by the latter are just a few; the former uses a wide variety of them. It is this that forms the foundation on which the entire edifice of the two concepts stands.

Evaluation in ancient days and modern times

Our system of judging pupils in ancient times was evaluation, unlike the present one which is examination oriented. Being built into the total teaching-learning process as an integral part, our ancient system of judging student abilities was comprehensive as compared to being segmental, flexible as compared to being rigid, pupil centric as compared to being system centric.

Those who used to teach also used to test. Evaluation used to be, thus, based upon its judgements on the basis of the focused observation of the day-to-day progress and behaviour of the students, which was monitored in its varied ramifications. The judgements, though subjective, were most certainly valid and reliable. These no doubt were informal evaluations but surely more authentic than the formal ones, which the British implanted in India. The teacher was trusted and treated with respect and his assessment was honoured by everybody. The British system of external examinations was imposed and based rather on the mistrust of the teacher; and dubbed our ancient system as subjective. They shackled our valuable approaches with systemic and impersonal controls which robbed us of a time tested cultural heritage of accurate, dependable and just evaluation.

The British implanted examinations, that commenced with the Woods despatch of 1854, were infact the result of a political conspiracy deliberately hatched for undermining the indigenous system of testing by indirectly under-rating it. The manipulations were an attempt of stabbing in the back the indigenous system in vogue, in the Pathshalas and the Madarsas, Quite stealthily and cleverly they tried to boost the importance of external collective examination, which in a positive manner, tended to reduce the importance of our indigenous systems. The enticements of formal certification of qualifications as a requirement for jobs and also admission to courses of higher education was done to further enhance the prestige of this examination system.

Furthermore, the move of making English as an essential qualification for attaining access to governmental jobs, helped in the popularization of the language of the rulers because of the economic bait.

The newly introduced examination system, no doubt, appealed to the common man as a more methodical and systematic one. This also made its acceptance smooth. It was indeed a politicaly motivated decision for linking examination certification for jobs as an economically viable factor.

This bore a semblance with the ancient Chinese system which in fact came to be subsequently termed as “Criterion Referenced” but its benchmark was used for offering jobs in the public administration.

With the separation of pre-university education and examination, suiting the needs of the Universities (of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras) necessitated an increasing number of Secondary Schools and the establishment of school education Board, the first of which was started in U.P in 1921.  While it was responsible for developing the courses of study, enunciation, teaching and learning approaches and evaluation strategies for what they are now termed as secondary and senior secondary examinations, external examinations earlier than class X were also started by the states.

Post independence Era

Developments after 1947 have been valuable and nation/local specific. The first  University Education Commission, 1948, chaired by Dr. Radhakrishnan stated in unambiguous terms that if they had to suggest just one reform in the system it would be that of examination. The Commission further expressed its dissatisfaction with the cognizance to only the performance at external examinations and sidelining of class work in the final overall assessment of student abilities. It, therefore, recommended that 1/3 of the total marks be devoted to internal assessment.

This was followed by the Secondary Education Commission, 1952, chaired by Mudaliar. This commission carried forward the recommendation of the Radhakrishnan Commission still further and recommended that “the certificate awarded (to students) should contain besides the results of public examination in different subjects, the results of school tests in subjects and evaluation of personality attributes not included in the public examination as well as the gist of school records”.

It was the only commission for the implementation of the recommendations of which, a special autonomous organization was created. This organization was the All India Council for Secondary Education (AICSE). As the recommendations of the Mudaliar Commission were many, the AICSE could not work simultaneously on all of them and decided to focus on some priority ones. Towards this end it issued a  questionnaire to all prominent educational agencies, organizations, institutions, eminent educationists of the time for soliciting priorities. Three priorities for action thus emerged. These were Science Education, Examination Reform and In-Service Teacher Education.

As the first initiative in the area of examination reform, the AICSE convened a National Seminar on Examination Reform at Bhopal in 1956. Among other things, the Seminar recommended that 20% of marks be devoted to internal assessment. This recommendation was immediately implemented by several states. However, the recommendation made in good faith and in all earnestness soon started being misused as a method of boosting marks. This realization prompted states, which had introduced it, to withdraw it one by one.

Simultaneously, Central Examination Unit (CEU) was established within AICSE in 1958 and the programme of examination reform started in full swing. It was implemented by different states. The quality of work of the CEU motivated the Govt. to make AICSE as a part of the Central Govt. and it was then renamed as Directorate of Extension Programmes for Secondary Education (DEPSE). It was at the AICSE and the DEPSE that NCERT, was conceived and planned. It was also one of the organizations that merged to constitute NCERT on its establishment in 1961.

The work of the NCERT in Examination Reform received wide acceptance in different parts of the country. It was praised by the Kothari Commission in the following words:

“During the seven years of its existence, the Central Examination Unit has made a multi-pronged attack on the popularization of the new concept and techniques of evaluation. It has worked with thousands of secondary school teachers in seminars and workshops, introduced hundreds of training college lecturers to the new techniques, established a large pool of test items, trained paper setters attached to different Boards of Secondary Education, published a good deal of literature on evaluation and carried out and sponsored several studies and investigations on various practical problems in examinations.”(9:67)

The Education Commission appreciated the NCERT’s programme so much that it even recommended it as a model for the UGC to follow:

“There is need for a central source to guide and activate a movement of Examination Reforms, without which no early and effective progress is possible. For instance, the activity which one now sees in this matter in the Boards of School Education is due largely to the Central Examination Reform Unit in the National Council of Educational. Research and Training. We recommend that the UGC should set up immediately a similar Examination Reform Unit for higher education” (11-55(i)

A less known Committee constituted just before the NPE, 1986, was the Narsimha Rao Committee on Examination Reform. The most important aspect of this report is that for each measure of examination reform suggested by it gives the benefits that it will yield to education.  In fact this report laid the foundation of the NPE 1986 related to Examination Reform. The two infact can be called mirror images of each other.

National Polices on Education

    The Kothari commission was the basis for the development of the NPE 1966 and also that of the NPE 1986.

National Policy on Education 1986/1992.

“8.23.     Assessment and performance is an integral part of any process of learning and teaching. As part of Secondary Educational strategy – Examinations should be employed to bring about qualitative improvement in education.

8.24.  The objective will be to recast examination system so as to ensure a method assessment that is valid and reliable measure of students development and a powerful instrument for improving teaching and learning. In functional terms, this would mean:

           i.   The elimination of excessive element of chance and subjectivity.

          ii.   The de-emphasis of memorization.

        iii.   Continuous and comprehensive evaluation that incorporates both scholastic and non-scholastic aspects of education.

         iv.   Effective use of evaluation process by teachers, students and parents.

           v.   Improvement in the conduct of examination.

         vi.   The introduction  of  concomitant  changes  in   instructional   material  and  methodology.

        vii.   Insertion of the Semester System from the secondary stage in a phased  manner, and

       viii.   the use of grades in place of marks.

Examination Reform in Higher Education

It, however, needs to be mentioned that while examination reforms have progressed at the school stage, there is what could be called a illiteracy about them at the University Stage. In certain areas the Universities even blocked examination reform at the school stage as in ‘grading’ because universities have not been prepared for it.

At the University stage Dr. H.J. Taylor at the University of Guwahati conducted a number of studies in these areas. These were:

                Operation pass mark           

                The question paper                                                             1963

                Grace marks

                An examination of examiners

                Dissemination value of Essay type questions         -      1970

                Effect of examiner variability on different indices

                of essay items                                                                -      1971

                Examination reform at the Post Graduate level         -      1973

A.K. Gayen and others almost during the same period conducted some other studies on the performance of students in some subjects at the secondary levels examination in West Bengal with NCERT’s support.

Edwin Harper and V.S. Mishra at Christian College Allahabad also conducted a number of studies of which the following two are better known:

Ninety marking ten

Four thousand reexamined

U.G.C. then brought out a few publications starting with a basic document called ‘Examination Reform – A Plan of Action’.  This document focussed attention on Grading, Semester system and Internal assessment and question banking.

The Association of Indian Universities also subsequently brought out a monograph on Grading and Scaling and developed question banks in different subjects.

During this very period, the UGC also started Examination Reform Units in different Universities. Because of the absence of technical guidance and orientation, these programmes basically focussed on Question Banks which turned out to be the easiest. Even in these projects, the test items missed the crucial element related to competencies tested. It focused mainly on content, losing the spirit and soul of question banks.

In this context, it will not be incorrect to say that the programmes pursued by these newly created units at the University level-

          Ø   could not get appropriate academic guidance from a central source,

          Ø   did not have any terms of evaluation experts,

          Ø   focused more on the administrative aspects of examination at    the cost of the academic aspects, and

          Ø   faced handicaps in implementation because of the absence of policy decisions in their respective universities.

Some other things which hampered the progress of Examination Reform at the university stage were:

          Ø   The suggestion regarding direct grading

          Ø   The use of a difficult to use and discretionary seven point scale for grading.

          Ø   The unpardonable lack of attention to the improvements in other facets of examinations including the quality of questions and question papers, scoring procedures and meaningful declaration of results.

          Ø   The absence of any intensive effort about orientation of the university faculties in the basic concepts of the reform and above all the absence of a Core team of evaluation experts at the U.G.C.

Issues Related to Evaluation

Some of the basic issues in Curriculum and Evaluation do also need to be addressed. Curriculum deserves  to be treated as a coherent whole and not segmental, inspite of its distinct divisions viz. Objective, Curriculum Content, Curriculum Transaction, Curriculum Material and Educational Evaluation.

Furthermore, Curriculum Development ought also to be a collaborative effort of the Curriculum Specialist, Educational Psychologist, Pedagogue, Practicing Teacher, Educational Administrator, Content Specialist, Educational Sociologist and experts in educational evaluation. To these traditional collaborators in Curriculum development we must now add representatives of Business, Industry as also Educational Technologist, Educational Economist.

To an educationist, it is also very annoying when one finds curriculum being developed paper wise and not course wise.

It is also imperative that agencies responsible for curriculum development develop a “Curriculum” in all its facets and not limit their efforts to the preparation of a bare content outline called “Syllabus” and that also not in term of courses of study but “papers”.


Another hot issue is “Grading” of pupil performance.  The idea emerged because of three basic reasons:

         Ø   The range of obtained marks in different subjects is different (say 0-100 in mathematics and 30 to 80 in English). Thus 40 marks in    Mathematics and 40 in English do not indicate the same level of achievement.

          Ø   The quality of students taking the same examination in different  years is not the same.

          Ø   The variations in the question papers of the same subjects in different examinations of different years are also not equivalent.

It is, therefore, not appropriate to use the same cut off scores (of 33%, 45%, 60%, 75%) as indicators for classifying the levels of attainments of students in all subjects, in all examinations and in all years. Technically this is an example of absolute grading where say 91%-100% marks are awarded A grade, 81%-90% B grade and so on, and students in some subjects may not get A or B grades at all.

The boundary scores of absolute grade ranges are arbitrarily decided in advance, where as in relative grading they are decided after the examinations when the obtained marks are available. The whole range of obtained scores is divided into different ranges on the basis of some scientific principles. Relative Grading is, therefore, a more scientific and a just system to use.

Grading does not also accept any concept of failure. Aggregating scores for determining divisions is also unscientific like adding rainfall (in mm), temperature (in celsius) and humidity (in percentage) to call the sum as weather for the examination in question.

In the grading system, grades ranges will be different in different subjects in different examinations and so they ought to be mentioned at the back of the certificate for the examination in question.

For enabling comparability of results of different examining agencies, say University and Boards, it seems desirable to indicate in addition to grades or marks, the percentiles.

Open and Distance Learning (ODL)

In the past students who could not pursue education in formal schools enjoyed the facility of appearing privately if they satisfied other conditions. Such candidates had no support system in place, to help them. Now with the introduction of the concept of distance learning this bridge has been qualitified and these candidates get study material and even the facilities of study centers.

Open learning offers a support system for enabling education reaching the unreached targets of education. It is worth mentioning that ODL has many strengths – no age restrictions, wide coverage, possibility for students to study at their own pace, a-la-carte choice of subject, accumulation and transfer of credits, inclusiveness by catering to the differently abled, equity by expansion of access, flexible examination schedule and as a safety net for drop-outs.

Challenge of Quality in ODL

There are of course some challenges for ODL. Distance Education degrees/ diplomas certificates are treated as second class qualification. It is something needed to be probed.

This curriculum is good and comparable to that of formal learning. The material is very good and frequently read even by those pursuing formal education. The shortfall, however, lies with the weaknesses in the examination system, which enables the undeserving to get qualifying certificates. The question papers by-and-large have just a few questions enabling only a partial coverage of the course-content, encouraging selective study and endangering reliability. There are options in abundance making scores incomparable and also imparting undependability of the scores. The vague questions and non-use of marking schemes lead to subjectivity both in answering questions and assessing scripts. No design and blueprints are being used in setting question papers. Above all, the contact programmes have been reduced to be an often skipped formality.  The system can cure and improve to provide a credible alternative to millions of have-nots and unconnects, ranging from elementary to senior secondary and extended to degree courses.

Those awarded certificates are thus not tested for desirable competencies for facing the challenges of life or even other attributes for pursuing higher academic and professional education. Statistics show that those qualifying through the distance learning mode seldom qualify at prestigious competitive examinations. Some competitive examinations do not accept the open learning certificates as eligibility qualifications.

The innovations like the On Demand Examinations too deserve quite a lot of spade work. As the on-line examinations can not test all the expected abilities, it is desirable to supplement it with another test, equal to about 25% weightage for testing these abilities. Practical Work should also be scrupulously done and evaluated. The study centre, too, do need to be supervised and not allowed to become breeding ground for malpractices.

Open learning examinations, therefore, need to be upgraded and revamped.

Abolition of class X Examination

It is an established fact that education does not have “revolutions”. It only admits “evolution”. With a long gestation period, education does not also yield immediate returns but has a long range impact. Furthermore, problem solving of the present by administrative decisions are not tenable in long term academic matters.

Some of the recent decisions in education have been noted by the academicians to be rather hasty and without the needed preparation and spade-work. The most significant of these is the making of class X CBSE public examination optional. In reality, it stands abolished. Sources are quoted saying that gradually senior secondary external public examination will also be abolished. It is presumed to be suitably replaced by CCE.  Notably, this is a decision by just one Board C.B.S.E.  The rest of the 41 national and state boards have openly expressed at the Ajmer Conference of Boards of School Education (COBSE 2010) that they will wait and watch the developments at the CBSE for taking a decision. Their reservations are founded on some real problems. Many academic and professional courses and many jobs have class X qualifications as necessary prerequisites, along with the authoritative mention of the date of birth.  Administratively, even in Boards about 75% of the staff works on class X examination and only 25% on Class XII examination. The decision will necessitate retrenchment which the state governments would fear to do, unless engage them in other administrative/academic works/ not mandated but other examinations and testings.

As a part of normal social acceptability, the external examination holds value, also inter comparability and getting cognizance in the present world of inter-state to international mobility. Even those who are desirous of pursuing self employment do want to have some formal qualifications.

It has been learnt that this has even prompted some parents to withdraw children from the CBSE schools and admit them in the state Boards. Students in some foreign CBSE schools, it is reported, are planning to shift to IB and GESE schools.

This move of optional public examination seems to have been done as an administrative showoff  rather than an academic professional decision in the name of reducing stress, but the result in general appears, as was apprehended, that students by and large are taking studies non-seriously feeling that everybody will pass.  Teachers may find it gradually difficult to make them all take up even internal evaluation seriously, lest as an instrument of competitive motivation for quality improvement.   There may be exceptions in a limited number of schools who have their own quality control mechanism.

Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation

Continuation Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) has infact been a reaction against the sole and exclusive dependence on external examination which by and large tested only the academic aspects for judging a pupils personality on a segmentary sample.

The CCE is a laudible concept. It has been recommended by NPE 1986 and the programme of action 1992. CCE is certainly not a new concept but the way it has been implemented by CBSE at present has raised many eye brows.  It was introduced in  Rajasthan in 1967, in Tamil Nadu in 1976, in Kerala in 1978, in J & K in 1989, in UP in 1990, in CBSE in 1997 and CISCE in 1984.

In fact in the above scheme, CCE has been treated as a supplement to and not a substitute for external examination.   Even CBSE had initiated the same way back in 1997-98. But now without any debate or discussion, CCE was notified to be introduced through over night website circulars which kept on changing, and holding one day conventions of CBSE Principals.  There has been no training of teachers worth the name as it had happened in other states and furthermore no trial run of the scheme was attempted.

The documents prepared too have created a lot of confusion. Somewhere the proposed scheme even proposes descriptive evaluation which is difficult to be comparable.

     It is being largely felt by the schools and academia at large that it has been conceived by CBSE as a scheme for the elite schools, as Govt. and aided schools  are completely unprepared for it. All that is happening in many schools is just paper work, more as a formality. People from the Govt. Schools of Delhi, which constitute a major chunk of CBSE, were neither involved in drafting the scheme nor are they able to practice it in the real terms.  This needs serious debate and reshaping to make it operable achieving the objective of fair and holistic evaluation.

It has been commented that the documents called Teachers’ Guides and Training Guides have serious technical mistakes. For examples, they treat ‘emotions’ ‘attitudes’ and ‘thinking’ as skills which can neither be physically observed, nor initiated, nor controlled, nor manipulated, and are doable. The directions have applied nine points scaling of absolute grading for teaching subjects, five point scale for sports & games and three point scale for value development. Teachers, who have not even learnt about it in B.Ed., nor were shared and trained are expected to apply it ‘judiciously’ (against all local odds, pressure and threats).

To conclude, it may be mentioned that the changes in the recent past have been unprecedented in terms of all facets and dimensions.  We have now to start thinking about a new Education Commission, a new Education Policy and a new National Curriculum Framework to reflect the environmental developments and the international ethos, enabling education to catch up with the changes and empowering it to meet the challenges of an unpredictable future.


*   Prof. B.P. Khandelwal has been former Chairman, U.P. Board, CBSE and Director, National Institute of Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA), New Delhi.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati