PARAKH NCERT: Private, US-based testing agency, ETS, will play major role in exam reforms in India

The agreement with PARAKH NCERT gives ETS a role in state, central board exam reforms, all assessments and evaluation in school education.

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NCERT PARAKH has signed a three-year contract with ETS to chart board exam reforms in India (Represntational Image: Vande Tripura)NCERT PARAKH has signed a three-year contract with ETS to chart board exam reforms in India (Represntational Image: Vande Tripura)

Atul Krishna | December 18, 2023 | 11:06 AM IST

NEW DELHI: In February, the central advisory body on school curriculum and teaching, National Council of Educational Research and Training, brought on board ETS, a global private testing body, to provide technical expertise to NCERT’s newly-established assessments centre, PARAKH. Over three years, NCERT will pay ETS a little over Rs 30 crore as consultation fees.

To Indians, ETS, headquartered in New Jersey, US, is best known for conducting the English language-proficiency test, TOEFL and the standard test for graduate admissions abroad, GRE. With PARAKH, its involvement in India’s domestic education and evaluation policies increases dramatically. The terms of its three-year contract with the NCERT and other documents, accessed by Careers360 through a Right-to-Information (RTI) application, show that its involvement will be wide-ranging in scope, covering practically every aspect of policy-making on evaluations and assessments in India.

It will not only influence how India conducts large-scale assessments such as the National Achievement Surveys (NAS) but also policies on board exams – both state and central – assessments of teachers and school education systems, evaluation and assessments for vocational education, evaluation for children with disabilities and integration of technology in programmes and assessments. ETS will also be in charge of “developing strategic partnership and collaboration with other public and private institutions including non-profit institutions”.

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PARAKH stands for “Performance Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development” and was a recommendation of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. It is an independent constituent body under the NCERT, in charge of setting norms, standards and guidelines for student assessment and evaluation for all recognised school boards. The government announced that ETS would be the technical partner for PARAKH in February 2023.

As the first report in this series explained, PARAKH’s most urgent goal is to bring parity between India’s 60 school examination boards, including state boards and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). As the second part showed, PARAKH and ETS have drawn up three and five-year roadmaps detailing what they will achieve over those periods.

ETS will also be in charge of recruiting contract staff for PARAKH and will advise it on overall staffing and resource needs for the short-term (three years) and long term (five-10 years). It will create capacity building plans and familiarise PARAKH members with international assessments.

PARAKH NCERT members

PARAKH is headed by Indrani Bhaduri, who heads the educational survey division at NCERT.

In addition to this, NCERT has appointed three advisers for PARAKH. They are Field’s Medal-winning Canadian-American mathematician Manjul Bhargava, also a member of the NEP 2020 steering committee; Anurag Behar, CEO, Azim Premji Foundation; Rukmini Banerji, CEO, PRATHAM.

ETS has already recruited 14 contractual staff including programme lead, senior psychometrician, junior psychometrician, subject specialists in science, maths, social science, language, and socio-emotional learning. If there is representation from the states – either the state boards, education departments or State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) – in PARAKH, there is no trace of it in the documents so far – including the PARAKH roadmaps and minutes of meetings held in September and October. However, PARAKH has conducted several consultation sessions and workshops with state boards since its inception in February, the last on December 7.

NCERT will be paying ETS Rs 30.88 crore over three years for their consultancy services. This includes Rs 2.49 crore for the senior psychometrician, Rs 1.47 crore for junior psychometrician, Rs 1.33 crore for the project lead, and Rs 46 lakh each for five subject experts per year. NCERT will also pay Rs 1.34 crore as reimbursements and Rs 1.33 crore for miscellaneous expenses.

Responsibilities of ETS

ETS will be responsible for improving the NAS 2024 while “maintaining a link to the NAS 2021” so that scores can be compared. The questionnaires for NAS 2024 are expected to be completed in February 2024.

According to the contract and roadmap documents, the following will be ETS’ broad responsibilities in its work with PARAKH:

  • ETS will assist with bringing technology-based solutions to assessment systems in India to “meet pandemic situations necessitating remote assessments”.

  • It will help the PARAKH team get familiarised with international assessments such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Progress for International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Findings from these international assessments will be used “to inform national or sub-national education policy”.

  • ETS is also tasked with “developing strategic partnership and collaboration with other public and private institutions including non-profit institutions and academic institutions”. It can “outsource” certain services provided it keeps the overall supervision.

  • It will assist PARAKH in evaluating the assessment patterns of all education boards in India by analysing question papers from the last five years.

  • ETS will also help create a pool of resources in 14 areas of assessment including creating assessment frameworks, cognitive instruments, technical standards, and test design. It will also support PARAKH in setting guidelines for design and implementation of State Level Achievement Surveys.

The initial contract with ETS is for three years and the contract will be renewed yearly based on “key performance indicators”.

This is the third of a three-part series on PARAKH, the new body set up by NCERT to guide India’s school examination systems.

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