School-based curriculum evaluation: Some caveats

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, September 15 2012, 2:12 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

The Education and Culture Ministry’s decision to evaluate the current school-based curriculum, Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP) used in elementary, junior and senior high schools should be commended.

First, as far as curriculum theory is concerned, evaluation is a vital component that cannot be excluded in any educational system. Evaluation reflects an attempt to discover drawbacks in the implementation of a curriculum as well as to sustain quality assurance.

In other words, it is sort of an a posteriori validation of the merits and demerits of the present curriculum. Through a rigorous, systematic and well-prepared evaluation, the efficacy of the contents of the curriculum can be untangled and the extent to which they meet the instructional objectives can be revealed.

The classroom is like a microcosm of society that is dynamic and mutable, and is always in a constant state of change. The corollary of this is that predetermined contents of the curriculum cannot always be capable of catering to the evolving needs of their users, most notably students and teachers.

Curriculum evaluation is thus indubitably called for in order to reduce or minimize any possible gaps created by classroom dynamics.

It should be highlighted that curriculum evaluation presupposes changes (either minor or major) that can eventually lead to the unveiling of new curriculum. It is at this juncture that problems can potentially arise.

Unless shrewdly managed, curriculum evaluation can pave the way for curriculum change, which will likely create more problems, and stymie efforts to improve old curriculum.

In fact, Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh has recently hinted that it is likely that the results from the ongoing curriculum evaluation could be taken as recommendations for a curriculum revamp and change. But, some caveats are in order.

In retrospect, the alterations of school mandated curriculum created only incessant public tumults, with students, parents and teachers becoming the victims of these curriculum changes.

The criticism made against changes to every newly introduced curriculum by the Education and Culture Ministry is a waste and does not have any significant effects on the improvement of educational practices in the country.

Instead, confusion builds in respect to how the new curriculum can be successfully implemented in the classroom with a heterogeneous number of students abounded among teachers.

Furthermore, the psychological burdens teachers have to endure to adjust themselves with the mandated curriculum, not to mention with the textbooks (consequence of the curriculum change) they use are so tremendous that in the end, they often feel fed up and frustrated. As a result, teaching is seen as a banal and tedious activity.

Beset with too much pressure in carrying out their daily routines, teachers often have no choice but to succumb to submissive attitudes. Their role as experienced professionals is eventually vitiated.

However, if curriculum change is seen as a dialogic process which encourages continuous negotiations, teachers have reasons to provide critical feedbacks regarding the implementation of the new curriculum. Without a doubt, teachers are the key players in determining the success and failure of the implementation of new curriculum.

The central role of teachers has been acknowledged by H.H. Stern (1983), who argues that, “The finest and most up-to-date curriculum ideas can be vitiated if they are imposed upon the teachers concerned without having made sure that the changes the new curriculum demands are understood by them (p. 442)”.

The lessons learned from previous fiascos in curriculum evaluations and changes are evaluations and changes that should not be done hastily and in a haphazard way. Furthermore, the inclusion of concerned parties including teachers in the evaluation is paramount.

Curriculum evaluation should be done systematically in the sense that it is carried out with clear rationales, explicit problem formulations, a sounding methodology and explicit report findings. Without any one of these elements, evaluation is doomed for failure.

No less important, the shift of orientation from the top-down approach to the bottom-up is also necessary to ensure the involvement of those who are directly affected by the evaluation results.

If the goal of curriculum evaluation is intended for the improvement of curricular contents to reflect the pressing needs of students, then a thorough evaluation from the bottom-up is likely to yield more fruitful results as opposed to when it is carried out from top-down.

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

Examining national exam

Setiono Sugiharto ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 05/02/2009 10:40 PM  |  Opinion

The apparent paradox of the annually-held national exam is that students’ learning efforts are never assessed in terms of the mandated national curriculum popularly known as Kurrikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP). There are some possible causes for this.

To start with, the contradiction is indicative of the sheer ignorance of our government in findings ways of linking what is prescribed in the philosophy underlying the KTSP with the ways students’ learning performances are assessed. From the perspective of the assessment, such ignorance has damaging consequences; it will bring about a harmful backwash effect – the effects of a test or assessment on teaching and learning.

This deleterious backwash effect will in turn give rise to the mistrust of a test by students and teachers. Further, as the national exam falls into the category of a high-stakes test – a test that has a tremendous impact on students’ life in the future – the role of other stakeholders (parents and society at large), apart from the students themselves, should not be undermined. Poor quality of a test will directly and indirectly impinge upon their perceptions of the test.

Lyle Bachman, a world’s noted language testing specialist, declares that no tests take place in a value-free system and the test should therefore have equitability, meaningfulness, impartiality, generalizability, relevance, and sufficiency.

If one peruses the contents of the KTSP, it is crystal-clear that the curriculum highlights the importance of acquiring the so-called pendidikan kecakapan hidup (life skills education), which encompasses personal, social, academic, and vocational skills.

Here we see a most contradictive nature of the national exam with the KTSP. By a standard logic, it would be na*ve to say that these life skills can be measured via the centralistic national exam, which lasted only a few days and which relies notoriously on a single assessment technique, i.e. the multiple choice items.

Despite its merit in terms of practicality and economy in scoring, such an assessment technique is highly incompatible with and has no relevance to the attainment of the life skills mentioned above. While it is possible to assess students’ academic skills using a multiple-choice technique, personal, social, and vocational skills can never be assessed using an artificial test format that provides students with a choice of alternatives.

In fact, the national exam has swung too far away from the mandated curriculum and therefore poses a validity threat. This is to say that the validity of such an exam is seriously called into question. As such, any attempts to harbor mistrust against the exam are understandable because the National Education Ministry, which is supposed to be held accountable for the exam, has failed to convince all stakeholders involved that the intended use of the exam nationwide is justified.

Probably, the most serious fallacy of the exam has been the denial of students’ psychological and geographical aspects. It would be unfair to use the results of the exam as the sole basis of inference for their future admission to higher learning institutions, given that the students are working under the pressure of time. Also, it would be too premature to draw a generalized conclusion that the national exam applies to all students hailing from heterogeneous geographical areas and even to those in the same areas in the country.

It is indeed an irony that all the schools nationwide must participate in the national exam, whereas the KTSP grants a full autonomy for teachers to conduct their own techniques of assessment.

Assessment, as defined in the KTSP, is a series of activities in order to obtain, analyze, and interpret data on students’ learning processes and learning results, which are done in a systematic and sustainable manner so as to become meaningful information in decision-making.

It is important to highlight here that this definition acknowledges assessment as an on-going process, which as further delineated in the KTSP, requires such techniques as observation, project work, performance assessment, portfolio and self-assessment.

With the life-skills education becoming the virtual goal as mandated by the KTSP, they can be the best candidate for alternatives in assessment for the future. They are simply too good not to be considered.

One can argue that they may demand professionalism on the part of the teachers in order to apply them effectively. They may also take considerable cost, time, effort, and training to obtain optimal results. Yet, when an exam has high stakes, and when backwash is considered vital, the investment of such cost, time, effort and training is worth doing.

The writer is chief-editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching. He teaches language assessment and English composition at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.