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Mainstream assessment systems - Czech Republic

It is common practice in primary and secondary schools in the Czech Republic for assessment to be seen predominantly as a teacher’s instrument serving the purpose of the correction of pupils’ performances and as an incentive leading to an increased effort.  It can be said that this is basically a heteronymous approach to assessment, wherein the assessment process related to the specific learning activity has been “alienated” somehow from the pupil in favour of the teacher. 

The pupils themselves do conduct some assessment activities though. However this has generally been done outside the area aimed at by the main educational focus. There have been exceptions with the occasional mutual “correction” along with certain learning exercises, or a teacher’s invitation for self-assessment after an oral examination in the class. 

The traditionally conceived assessment practice has a classical numeric scale with notes from 5 to 1 as its main tool. It has been commonly practiced that teachers broaden this scale for their internal use utilising classical “minuses”, respectively “pluses” or various symbols serving the fine-tuning of the numeric grades. Thus teachers created numeric (or quasi descriptive) nuances as an auxiliary tool in order to overcome the limited framework of the numeric scale. Nevertheless these marks have been used not as a part of the methodically elaborated approach, but rather as semi-private reminders.  

The numeric notes practice has been harshly criticised by most teachers and educational theoreticians as far back as the eighties, particularly in the first half of nineties. The alternative proposed was a descriptive assessment. The descriptive assessment was used widely at a number of schools during the first third of the nineties, especially at the private ones. Lowly elaborated and weakly established practice of descriptive assessment together with its significant demands have however deterred a great number of teachers from its use so that schools have started returning back to the classical numeric grades.

Nevertheless the descriptive assessment- assessment by words - is still rather common in private schools as one, amongst other, distinctive features of their unique educational approach. The main objective commonly made against the use of the numeric note is its low informative capacity and too much categorical formulation. In real life practice however, teachers have been adding relatively positive supportive information when revealing the outcome of the assessment to pupils and parents. 

Senior pupils and their parents can thus be helped by this information, which enables them not only to estimate which descriptive content had been given by a particular note, but what has been demanded from them in order to improve as well. There are some rather complex negotiation processes regarding the numeric notes practice, as can be seen in the research recently conducted by the School Ethnography Prague Group at the Pedagogical Faculty of the Charles’ University.

The notes distribution has a typical feature within particular subjects across the various schools. Research done at the Prague Pedagogical Faculty show that the notes within the taught subjects, especially with profiling subjects such as maths or the Czech language, have a normal distribution, i. e. the best notes (the “ones”) and the worst notes (the “fives”) are represented in the smallest quantities. On the other hand with the arts its distribution has regularly been closer to “L” form, i. e. the most notes are the ones and the twos. 

For the time being the radical stances towards the numeric notes have been somewhat reduced. The prevailing belief among teachers and theoreticians suggest that the overall approach to assessment implemented in particular didactic situations must be perceived as a decisive feature, not the very form of the assessment.

However the controversy around numeric vs. descriptive assessment has put a new light on a crucial problem known for a long time – pupils have been informed by the teacher on the note only, not on the correction of their work. The pupil is informed of the teacher’s assessment of her/his effort, but not about the mistakes she/he has made. This deepens disproportion between the autonomous vs. the heteronymous assessment concept and consequently the formative assessment rate decreases in favour of the summative assessment. 

There are obviously rather complex causes for this situation. One of them is certainly teachers’ cautiousness because of pressure from the parents – when pupils receive a corrected written task, some parents or pupils tend to question the relevance of the mistakes made. Another reason is lack of time – teachers perceive the work on the subject taught as more important than concentrating on a deeper analysis of the reasons for, or the context in which, errors have been made.

Moreover there is a lack of systematically elaborated approaches to autonomous assessment, respectively a lack of implemented methodologies which could systematically train pupils for self-evaluation and assessment. This has been so in spite of the fact that the autonomous approach to assessment has been known and promoted in the Czech Republic as far back as the eighties.

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