Editorial: Testing teachers

The Jakarta Post | Editorial | Fri, August 10 2012, 10:54 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

Teachers are up in arms these days. This time it is not about their salaries, which in a number of areas have improved. It is about the testing of their competence, which at the end of the day is supposed to contribute to a “mapping” of teacher competence across the country.

Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh says the mandatory tests for certified teachers will not affect wages, but some teachers fear risking their pay if they do not attend.

This year the teachers’ competence test, which runs to Aug. 12 nationwide, is being conducted online. The technical glitches related to the test, which led to thousands having their tests delayed, are one source of anger, but this is the least of the problems.

Testing teachers no doubt has a positive goal. Indonesian students are far from worldwide performers except when they are picked to attend exceptional training sessions for science, prior to joining global Olympiad competitions. The vast majority of students are, to put it crudely, largely left to fate.

A few classes in far-flung places may have extraordinary teachers — those who are passionate day in and day out, while they may have to teach six grades in one school with poor pay, after walking long distances to school along with their students.

The rest may be just struggling to reach the targets of the material to be mastered by students, as determined by the Education and Culture Ministry and its regional offices, ahead of national quarterly and annual exams. Students from elite families have much better learning experiences with better trained teachers.

It is this huge gap in learning conditions across the country which leads skeptics to question the use of the uniform competence test for teachers. As teachers report, some parts of the multiple choice questions are so complicated that they cannot gauge their relevance. Others reflect the similar multiple choices that students face in the testing of their accumulation of information — but not necessarily knowledge.

Despite the criticism, parents agree that they would only trust their children to competent teachers — it was thanks to the tests that we discovered that most teachers, for instance, scored low in English, which might help to explain students’ poor English skills despite years of study.

The results, the minister says, will lead to further training for teachers found to be “less competent.” This would mean the vast majority of teachers, going by the results of this year’s batches, which have yielded average scores of below 50 percent.

As it stands, the current tests are only another source of frustration for teachers, long left to themselves to improve their own welfare. Suspicion abounds — teachers ask whether the tests are just another “proyek”, suspecting corruption.

The tests must be improved upon, but they will only be effective if other urgent measures are conducted. Less competent teachers are still invaluable assets in schools and communities. Despite a good national ratio of one teacher to 18 students, as cited by the initiator of the “Indonesia Teaches Movement”, Anies Baswedan, hundreds of students in many communities depend on a handful of teachers.

Increasing the number of teachers willing to be deployed to poor and remote areas will require a boost from the government, apart from the local initiatives which have contributed to teachers’ incentives.

Let’s get serious about nationwide teacher evaluations

Anita Lie, Surabaya | Opinion | Sat, August 11 2012, 10:51 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

While the nationwide teacher competence test has been poorly administered, removing the test and trusting teachers, as suggested by Setiono Sugiharto (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 4, 2012) may mean overestimating our teachers’ capability to take command of their teaching quality and enhance their professional development.

It is true that some teachers are highly committed and dedicated to their profession. Such teachers are intrinsically driven to be engaged in the continuous improvement of their teaching practices and student learning. Those teachers would be misrepresented in an inappropriately designed and poorly administered competence test. A multiple-choice format competence test would not be adequate to assess and reveal the merits of those teachers.

Without any proper teacher-evaluation system however, performance assessment and professional learning will be neglected. Good teachers will likely improve their skills, but mediocre and poor teachers will continue their bad habits and will do no good for our students. An effective teacher evaluation system should have a clearly-defined purpose, set appropriate priorities and be wedded to a comprehensive approach.

The competence test was launched and was said to map the quality of teachers nationwide, review the quality of all certified teachers and justify extra pay on a quarterly basis. All these objectives have marred and confused the purpose of teacher assessment.

To map the quality of teachers should not require that all teachers be tested. An appropriate sampling should be adequate and more than efficient.

Justifying additional pay for teachers may be part of the political process between the Education and Culture Ministry and the House of Representatives. Thus, it should not be resolved by administering such a large-scale test. Should the competence test really aim to review the quality of certified teachers, further questions will arise.

To what end does the competence test lead teachers? Is the goal to promote student learning or merely to review teachers’ quality? What aspects of high-quality teaching does it assess?

Any program or activity in the education system should eventually aim at promoting student learning. Scoring high on the multiple choice test does not directly translate into improved teacher practices and student learning. When the education system clearly and consistently pursues assessment and growth for every teacher, teachers will stay focused on their own growth as well as that of their students.

An effective teacher-performance-assessment system includes continuous professional development, peer coaching, principal involvement and leadership at the school level.

At the end of the day, a serious teacher evaluation system requires the authority to take tough decisions in relation to rewarding the good teachers, improving the not-so-good teachers or dismissing the bad ones. This system is founded on the assumption that “all teachers can and want to learn” until on a case-by-case basis, some teachers prove unwilling or unable to do so.

Should the teacher assessment really aim at promoting student learning, it requires a comprehensive approach. Improving teachers’ qualities, which then leads to student learning, goes beyond the results of multiple-choice competence tests.

The growth of teachers needs to be assessed on a day-to-day basis. This means principals have to systematically conduct their supervision responsibility. While the official supervisors at the district education level rarely perform their duties properly, few principals carry out the classroom observation tasks or design a system of mentoring, peer-observation and supervision in their schools. Consequently, few school leaders have developed adequate supervision skills and thus teachers are left to sink or swim throughout their teaching careers.

A nation that is serious about improving the learning of its children should start by appointing education executives who are consistent enough to make teacher’s growth one of the highest priorities of education development.

The recent teachers’ competence test may be positively regarded as a good start in enhancing teachers’ growth, but unfortunately the test remains far from an appropriately designed model of teacher evaluation. To enhance student learning, more thought and effort should be integrated into an effective teacher performance assessment system.

The writer is a professor at Widya Mandala Catholic University, Surabaya.

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.