The Nepal School Sector Development Plan (SSDP) 2016/17-2022/23 has envisioned public examinations, certification and accreditation functions at local, provincial and federal levels for grades 8, 10 and 12. National Examination Board (NEB) conducts all the exams except for grade 8, which is conducted by Local Governments (LGs). NEB has the mandate to oversee and provide quality assurance for public examinations by ensuring that they are fair, competency-based, and standardised. NEB is working towards the standardization of examinations based on the curriculum of these grades. 

SSDP Technical Assistance (TA) funded by the European Union (EU) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting NEB in the standardization of grade 8 exams. 

Standardisation: A Step-by-Step Process

One of the main objectives of the examination reform is to standardize the testing all across the regions over a period focusing on mitigating the fluctuation in test papers felt in past years. Due to varying difficulty levels in the same year of the examination and different test papers, the achievement levels of the students cannot be compared over the years or across the regions. Therefore, tests need to be standardized to be comparable between years, regions and populations. 

To respond to the SSDP emphasis on the development of standardized tests, the SSDP TA assisted the NEB to develop an Assessment Framework for grade 8. This framework aims to provide valid, reliable, consistent and transparent guidelines for developing test forms in three core subjects: English, Mathematics, and Science and Technology based on the current curriculum and specification grid. 

In July 2020 a fourteen-day Item Writing Training focusing on developing item writing skills based on curriculum and emphasising higher cognitive level and thinking skills were held with the support of SSDP TA in coordination with the NEB to build the capacity of writers to develop test items for grade 8 in the three core subjects. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) also partnered with SSDPA TA and NEB for providing input in the item development training and item review. 

Item writers were selected from among the teachers and curriculum development experts. The training involved 112 teachers (39 science, 36 English and 37 mathematics) from all seven provinces. Due to COVID 19, the participant's attendance was a hybrid; virtual and physical. 

Mr. Durga Aryal, NEB Member Secretary said: “The training for authoring item development came at an appropriate time when the country is witnessing discourses on discrepancies in standards for examinations. Coordination and cohesion between NEB, Education Record Office (ERO) and Curriculum Development Center (CDC) are necessary and there must now be a shift from assessment of learning to assessment for learning.”

Following item writing training, the task for Item Development, 31 teachers out of 112 were selected to carry out item development for English, mathematics, and science, initiated in October 2020 with support of SSDP TA. By the end of February 2021, 3000 completed items, 1000 for each subject item underwent a review process by a panel of experts. 

The review sessions not just focused upon discussing particular items, but also how other items can be developed to test particular learning outcomes; what other formats can be used such as translating Multiple Choice Questions to Short Answer Questions and vice versa; other possible items in the learning outcome; and the possibility of item cloning. The item review session was also instrumental in improving the item development skills of the item writers. The final items have been submitted to the NEB for moderation. The items submitted will now be reviewed by another panel of experts before signing off by the NEB to be placed in a repository of items. 

“My understanding of item writing now goes beyond setting questions. I will now ensure that my approach to student assessment will look into the competency framework and mechanism to ensure quality.” – Ms. Achala Thapa, Science Item Writer

“My foremost takeaway from the training was my understanding of rubrics as an assessment tool. The rubric has opened up my mind on marking criteria to evaluate students based on written assignments, presentations and engagement in class.” – Mr. Resham Koirala, Math Item Writer

SSDP TA has started the process to build a grade, subject and certification-based repository of assessment which would serve as a national database for the development and storage of assessment items overtime to drive pre-calibrated valid items. Starting with grade 8, grade 10 and 12 items will follow, which the NEB has been working on. Along with the development of item bank, necessary capacity building of NEB, ERO, province, LG, school and University will also be carried out.