By Nepomuceno Malaluan

I had the privilege of giving a keynote speech at the 2022 National Conference on Educational Measurement and Evaluation organized by the Philippine Educational Measurement and Evaluation Association (PEMEA). PEMEA is a professional organization of assessment academics and practitioners who are pushing for high-quality theory, research, and practice in educational measurement and evaluation. The conference’s theme was “Unlocking the Potentials of Assessment in Reimagining Curriculum and Instruction.” The theme is very timely given the present challenging times for Philippine basic education.

Broadly, assessment at the classroom level refers to the process of keeping track of learners’ progress in relation to learning standards. System assessments measure the effectiveness of an educational system in achieving learning goals. Three major tasks confront basic education as we transition towards the post-COVID period, to which assessment as a vital component of the learning process must respond. The first is addressing the long-standing challenge of quality in basic education. The second is recovering the learning loss arising from the disruption of face-to-face classes. The third is anticipating the future of education and making careful but bold changes now.

On the first task, the administration of former Education Secretary Leonor Briones shone a light on the challenge of quality in basic education. As early as November 2016, she singled out quality as the foremost challenge of basic education in the country, based on historical performance in national assessments. This was the reason why, despite the political risk, she approved the country’s participation in the 2018 round of the OECD Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, for the first time since this international assessment was started in 2000. She wanted to see how we measure against international quality norms, and to generate important data and understanding of this challenge.

Given the historical poor performance in our national achievement tests, we did not fare well in PISA, and in other international assessments that we joined. Thus, the Department of Education (DepEd) launched in November 2019 the program Sulong Edukalidad, comprising the four pillars of curriculum review, continuous improvement of the learning environment, upskilling and reskilling of teachers, and engagement of stakeholders for partnerships and collaboration. Concrete programs backed up these pillars of Sulong Edukalidad.

Specific to assessment, we implemented a Professional Development Program on Assessment and Emerging Literacies with focus on PISA. We partnered with a consortium that included assessment experts from the Philippine Normal University, De La Salle University, University of the Philippines, and organizations like the Assessment, Curriculum, and Technology Research Center (ACTRC), Center for Educational Measurement (CEM), and FrontLearners, Inc., to develop and implement the program. The program aimed to improve teachers’ assessment literacy and content knowledge, which should help them align their classroom practice with the emerging literacies measured by international large-scale assessments.

We hope that similar programs, as well as participation in international large-scale assessments, will be continued. Sustained participation builds an important database that provides information across students’ performance in specific learning areas.

On the second task of responding to the urgent need to recover the learning loss during the pandemic, undoubtedly pure distance learning was fraught with challenges faced by teachers and learners. These included the availability of quality distance learning resources, instructional assistance in the home, limitations on formative assessment and feedback, home learning environment, time management and motivation, and monitoring of the time and effort for learning. The learning loss can be expected to be highly unequal and to be more acute among children in early years of learning.

The first critical step to learning recovery will be to have a proper assessment of learning loss at both system and classroom levels. A system assessment administered to a statistically representative sample of students may serve as rapid assessment to inform regional, division, or school-level interventions, such as the preparation of standardized learning remediation tools. Classroom assessment, on the other hand, will enable teachers to identify individual learning levels and provide differentiated instruction.

On the third task of anticipating the future of education, I do not subscribe to taking a singular focus on learning loss post-pandemic. When we consider learning loss because of the physical closure of schools, we need to look at the same time at learning gains. During the pandemic, children learned to be more independent in their studies; parents renewed their role in their children’s learning process; local governments became more creative; and school officials started rethinking their traditional notions of learning space and classrooms.

Thus, while basic education returns to face-to-face classes, it should not totally snap back to pre-COVID learning delivery. We should make room for some amount of distance learning blended with the predominant face-to-face classes. The distance learning component should be designed to maximize competencies that are highly compatible with distance learning. Many of these competencies are also important to prepare learners for the present and future social and economic environments. Assessment will then need to adapt to the new forms of learning delivery as well as to new learning competencies post-COVID.

Nepomuceno Malaluan, a former education undersecretary, has rejoined Action for Economic Reforms as a trustee and senior fellow.