A news item published on November 09, 2015 reported that the Balochistan government will soon be recruiting 5,000 teachers through standardised testing.
Prior to 2000, teachers were selected solely on the basis of their academic qualifications. In early 2000, an interview was introduced as an additional step in the process. The process, however, was believed to be subject to political interference and appointments were usually based on introductions and references (sifarishs), rather than merit.
During the past 3-4 years, provincial governments have revised their recruitment and service rules to introduce a merit-based hiring policy in their respective provinces. According to this policy, priority is given to candidates who are academically more qualified, are willing to be placed in a school in their own union council and score high on third party tests (usually developed and administered by the National Testing Service (NTS)).
The introduction of the third party test as part of the teacher recruitment process has, reportedly, helped deter political interference in teacher recruitment, making the process of hiring teachers more transparent and fair. The test is also an important element in merit-based recruitment: candidates who score better in the test are more likely to be hired. It is hoped that candidates hired on merit will ultimately raise the quality of education provided to all segments of the society.
Eligible candidates are usually required to have a minimum qualification (based on the level of schooling they will teach at) as well as a professional teaching certification/diploma/degree from a recognised institute. Withstanding slight variations across provinces, under the current recruitment policy, candidates are scored out of 200 marks. The NTS test is allocated 100 marks. The remaining 100 marks are allocated to qualifications. A merit list is developed and top scoring (NTS score + qualification score) candidates are picked based on their proximity to schools where posts are advertised.
Sounds like a good plan to ensure transparency and fairness of the recruitment process. However, with a test now a regular feature of the hiring process, it is time for school departments to see how the test can ‘work harder’ in terms of improving the process of teacher recruitment and ultimately the quality of education in their respective provinces.
To that end, two things are important to consider; test design and use of test data to inform policy of teacher recruitment and programmes of professional development.
A well-designed teacher recruitment test should be able to determine if a test taker has acquired and can demonstrate adequate command of the domain of knowledge and/or skills that the profession has defined as being necessary to enter the profession of teaching. Therefore, test must be aligned with the content domain deemed necessary for professional practice. Furthermore, test questions should also be of appropriate difficulty level, and weightage of each content domain to be covered by test questions should be carefully determined by content experts.
The current testing system may be doing that already, but there is no publicly available evidence of that. Best practices of testing require that the design of any standardised high stakes test such as the teacher recruitment and/or licensing test should be meticulously documented and shared publicly to build confidence of stakeholders in the validity of the testing process.
For systems that select teachers on the basis of large scale competitive examinations it is important that the selection process is based on clear, transparent and widely accepted standards of what beginning teachers need to know to be effective practitioners. In the absence of a systematically developed and comprehensive test design document, it is impossible to claim that the current recruitment test is a valid assessment of the knowledge and skills of potential teachers.
Another un(der)utilised aspect of the testing process is the lack of analysis of test data which should otherwise be a regular feature of the whole exercise. At present, it seems like the academic scores and teacher recruitment test scores of candidates are being used only to prepare merit lists to shortlist top scoring candidates for vacant posts in each school. Data is not being analysed neither to establish robustness of the test nor to determine trends in performance.
One can appreciate the struggle departments, in low performing systems of education like ours, go through to ensure adequate supply of candidates to ensure there is a teacher in every classroom. Teaching is often not the choice career for the bright. Departments have to make do with the pool that is available to them. Results of analysis of data do not imply that the provincial departments should not continue their current practice of shortlisting candidates.
At the same time it is important to realise that the long-term objective is not just to ensure quantity of teachers available but also the quality of their teaching. Demographics and result data of candidates can be systematically analysed over years to not only better inform recruitment practices but also feed into other policies related to professionalisation of teaching.
Such analysis can have direct implications for the recruitment policy and professional development programmes. For instance, if those with a Master’s degree have a higher chance of being shortlisted for a teaching position (because they score higher based on their qualification) but are still performing quite poorly on the NTS test, the department may wish to further examine the value of hiring Master’s degree holders at a higher starting salary.
Likewise, it is important to know how many candidates, especially those who are finally being shortlisted as teachers, are meeting the curriculum standards being tested. It is also important to know who these candidates are (gender, academic institutions and other demographic information that may be of use) and their trajectories of academic achievements (academic qualifications and corresponding marks obtained). When repeated over several tests, this data will help the department understand policy relevant trends for those individuals who are actually meeting entry requirements.
It is even more critical for the department to know how many of the shortlisted candidates are not meeting a minimum standard, since these candidates may still be selected as teachers. The demographic profiles and academic achievements of such candidates are important to analyse. It is unlikely that many of the low scoring individuals will pass simply by retaking the test without learning more of the content measured on the test. This analysis could have direct relevance for deciding on whether or not to admit a candidate into full employment unless they meet minimum standards within a prescribed timeframe.
Results of such analysis can be used to provide feedback to colleges and universities whose candidates are not meeting minimum subject standards. This holds those university programmes that are churning out substandard degree holders more accountable.
The provincial departments must recruit thousands of teachers every year. Given that the pool for selection is, generally, not comprised of high achieving candidates, inevitably this means that some candidates are recruited even though they have low-test scores. Setting a higher pass mark to make the test ‘work harder’ is unlikely to help in the short term, until the general quality of candidates interested in becoming teachers improves.
However, there are other ways that the test can be made to ‘work harder’ to help improve the quality of education. For example, as mentioned earlier, the test could be improved so as to provide more useful information about the quality of teachers entering the teaching profession and about their capabilities in relation to the curriculum being taught in schools in the province.
Test results can be analysed in new ways so that the quality and nature of teachers entering the profession in each district/province can be compared, and so that resources (for example, teacher professional development resources) can be better targeted.