On Monday, the Central Board of Secondary Education finally gave up its bid to guide the evaluation of elementary school students (Classes 1 to 8) by withdrawing a set of instructions it had issued on the subject.

The Right to Education Act, 2009 – which promises free and compulsory education for children aged six to 14 – makes “continuous comprehensive evaluation” compulsory for primary school students (Classes 1-8). Under this system, the progress of each child is tracked through the school year with the help of a range of activities, not just tests. It replaced the older system of evaluation based on the year-end exam. The same year, the Central Board of Secondary Education made the Class 10 board exam optional and drew up a scheme for continuous comprehensive evaluation for Classes 9 and 10.

The national board, which conducts examinations only for secondary school classes (Classes 9-12), had no reason to get involved with the evaluation of primary school students, as an earlier report on Scroll.in explained. But going beyond its brief, it drew up an evaluation scheme for primary classes in 2010 that it claimed was based on the principles enshrined in the Right to Education Act. Although meant only for schools affiliated to the board, the 2010 scheme – or versions of it – was adopted by several state boards as well.

On March 21 last year, after the Class 10 board exam was once again made mandatory, the Central Board of Secondary Education issued a fresh set of instructions for the evaluation of students from Classes 6 to 8.

It was only when the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights – India’s top child rights body, which oversees the implementation of the Right to Education Act – ordered it to stay out of elementary education that the board withdrew the instructions.

A flawed policy

The Commission’s intervention was prompted by widespread criticism of the Central board’s evaluation policy. Under it, the concept of continuous and comprehensive evaluation became a rigid framework of frequent tests, activities and assignments. All these various aspects – including students’ personality traits – were scored and recorded.

Teachers said the system robbed them of their autonomy while parents also complained against it. In 2016, a study sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund called it a “record-keeping exercise” in which “recording of assessment marks and grades seemed to be an end in itself”.

The scheme was even blamed for the hostility to the no-detention policy – a reform mandated by the Right to Education Act that banned schools from making children from Classes 1 to 8 repeat a year, but which the government has now decided to do away with.

In September, the Commission ordered the board to stop creating or implementing evaluation policies for classes below secondary school, pointing out that this was a violation of the 2009 Act and that the appropriate academic authority for primary education was the National Council for Educational Research and Training.

The board’s governing body discussed this order at its meeting on December 15. Finally, on Monday, it issued a notification informing all affiliated schools that its latest directions for Class 6 to 8 “stand repealed”. The notification was shared with Priyank Kanoongo, member-education of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. “We were informed on January 22 that they have taken this action based on our order but the full compliance report will come later,” he said.

How it spread

As the Central Board of Secondary Education’s evaluation policy for primary classes caused widespread discontent for seven years, some of the blame for this can be attributed to a delay in the proper implementation of the continuous comprehensive evaluation process held in the Right to Education Act.

The National Council for Educational Research and Training was authorised to develop a strategy for this, but did not come up with one till 2013. In the meantime, state education departments looking for guidance reached for the Central board’s swiftly-assembled 2010 evaluation manual.

As states replicated this template, a problem that could have been contained within the Central board’s affiliated schools – which number over 19,000 at present – was amplified.

‘Board cannot overrule Act’

The withdrawal of the Central board’s March 21 circular for affiliated schools comes as a relief to many schools that were “already contesting” it, according to the principal of a private school in Delhi.

The circular reads:

“To increase the confidence in the students to start preparing for Class 10 Board examination when they join the upper primary stage in Class 6, the [Central Board of Secondary Education] has decided to implement the uniform system of assessment, examination pattern and issue of report cards for Classes 6 to 8 also on the similar pattern.”

It claimed the scheme had been designed with the provisions of the Right to Education Act in mind but stressed “on term assessment… with gradual increase in the learning assessment as the students move forward”. Under this evaluation process, students would write an exam worth 80 marks in each subject at the end of every term while a “periodic assessment” – including, once again, tests, activities and “notebook submission” – would carry 20 marks.

This system would “prepare children to cover the whole syllabus of the academic year and face the challenge of the Class 10 board exam”, the circular said.

Accusing the board of overstepping its boundaries, the Delhi school principal pointed out, “First, the board already controls everything related to secondary schools but has no jurisdiction over Class 6 to 8. Second, the circular mentions the Right to Education Act but clearly contradicts its provisions on CCE [continuous comprehensive evaluation].”

He added, “The board is important but it cannot overrule the promise of the Act.”