Just remove competence test, trust teachers

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, August 04 2012, 1:08 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

A sense of complacency, if not utter buoyancy, has once again made the Education and Culture Ministry insist on holding teacher competency tests, intended for millions of certified teachers nationwide. This competence test, it is believed, can provide a map of teachers’ teaching competence, and could eventually accelerate quality education.

Held in two rounds — July 30-Aug. 2 and Oct. 1-6 — the test is conducted both online and in person. And for the sake of practicality in administration, the questions are multiple choice, where teachers are to mark the answer they think most accurate.

Despite resentment aired recently by teachers from the teaching association (PGRI), the Education and Culture Ministry feels obliged to conduct this test as a starting point for teachers’ performance evaluations, especially in aspects such as pedagogic and professional competence (Kompas, July 26 and July 30).

Teachers’ opposition to the test is not unfounded, given that they know precisely that the test is not a reflection of what they are facing in real life contexts like in the classroom.

They also know, given their practical wisdom, that the artificiality of the test cannot entirely capture the very ingenious nuances of classroom contexts, and pedagogical and professional competence cannot be reduced to a formal competence test.

The results teachers obtain from the mandated test yield nothing useful, and nothing meaningful, to the teachers. The results cannot be dependably interpreted in terms of the two competences required. There is no guarantee that good test results mirror the desired competences, and bad results indicate lack of such competence. As such, the predictive power of the test is cast into doubt.

In addition, it seems rather short-sighted to lay a claim that the mapping of both professional and pedagogic competence can be validly obtained immediately by a so-called competence test conducted in only a few hours within a single test format. Any kind of assessment or test — be it in a pedagogic or other domain — always has constraints, which we at the outset need to be aware of.

One of the inherent constraints is the notion of incompleteness. This is to say that any intellectual endeavor to measure teachers’ competence can never be considered complete in a given, and limited, allotment of time. Test results can provide only a partial picture of teachers’ competence, and cannot, therefore, be used as a final reference for the mapping of their competence.

Another constraint is impreciseness. We cannot be certain that the competence test precisely measures teachers’ pedagogic and professional competences. One important question we need to pose regarding the notion of impreciseness is: To what extent does the competence test cover the representative samples of these competences? Put simply, does the competence test really measure the two competences that it intends to measure? To complicate things further, how about teachers’ socio-cultural and psychological variables? To what extent are these variables accounted for in the preparation of the test?

Given that teachers hail from completely different socio-cultural backgrounds, and may have unstable emotional conditions or anxiety, a test with a unified content clearly runs against the grain of the spirit of attaining quality education. Teachers’ competence tests should be abandoned if the test simply ignores the above-mentioned variables. Ethics are at stake.

Pedagogy is an ongoing activity, engaged in a social dynamic, and the success or failure of pedagogical practices cannot be measured simply by choosing the right answer from the given available alternatives.

In this sense, the best alternative for measuring both pedagogy and professional competences of teachers should equally be ongoing, starting from practice rather than from a formal test.

While, admittedly, the latter is more practical in terms of test administration than the former, the educational benefits of the first alternative shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of practicality.

Scattered, on-going, and various forms of assessment provide richer outcomes which cannot be captured by a single, formal test. It is more revealing and congruous with the pedagogical and professional needs of teachers, as they take place in a natural context and allow for more engagement with real life situation.

Insights generated from these engagements serve as important lessons to improve their teaching skills, and more importantly, as a conduit to advance their professional work as teachers.

In a nutshell, as the administration of formal tests are often burdensome, costly and without clear benefits to teachers and schools alike, the ad hoc solution we currently think of is to dump the tests and trust the teachers.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University. He is also chief-editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

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