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Curricular reform in schools: the importance of
evaluation

Evaluation plays a pivotal role in deciding what the learners learn and what the teachers teach in schools. The paper reports a study of English-language teaching conducted in Delhi State of India that sought to examine the assumption that a change in an evaluation pattern can trigger curricular reform. Did concomitant changes take place in the teaching and testing of English at the upper-primary stage when the Central Board of Secondary Education introduced changes in the courses of study and the examinations in English language at the end of class X (age 15 + ), the occasion of the first high-stakes public examination in India? This expectation of change was confirmed in the findings of this study, which may apply to other curricular areas and speak to any school system ready to implement reforms in their instructional practices.

Evaluation is universally accepted as an integral part of teaching and learning. It is one of the basic components of any curriculum and plays a pivotal role in determining what learners learn. Candlin and Edelhoff (1982: vi) assert that ‘learners learn most when they are quite precisely aware of . . . how their efforts are to be judged and evaluated’. Evaluation also plays a central role in deciding what teachers teach and how they teach; Reardon et al. (1994), for example, contend that ‘changes in assessment policies can be used as a powerful lever for reforming schools’. This assumption provides the focus for this paper. The study reported here examines the role of evaluation in effecting curricular reform in schools, with particular reference to the English-language curriculum in India.

Evaluation is widely acknowledged as a powerful means of improving the quality of education. Examinations influence the quality of teaching and learning in schools. Whereas plans for curriculum change, according to Barnes et al. (2000), often fail to do more than generate new policy documents or exchange one form of professional rhetoric for another— without any substantive curriculum change in instructional practices, assessment does drive instruction: goals, teaching strategies, and even the tasks employed for developing various skills are derived from the anticipated evaluation.

Mamta Agrawal, professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Extension in the National Council of Educational Research and Training, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi– 110016, India (e-mail: mamta48@yahoo.com), has research interests in educational evaluation, English-language testing, and teacher education. Her publications include the Handbook of Evaluation in English (New Delhi: National Council of Educational Research and Training, 1988) and several books on communicative tests of reading and writing, reading comprehension exercises and oral exercises in English for the use of English-language teachers at the school level.

Journal of Curriculum Studies ISSN 0022–0272 print/ISSN 1366–5839 online © 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
DOI: 10.1080/0022027032000152987

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M. AGRAWAL

Several researchers (Broadfoot et al. 1990, Stake et al. 1991, Gifford and O’Connor 1992) have drawn the attention of educational planners and administrators to the possibility of using changes in evaluation practices to reform the curriculum. In their review of secondary examinations, Eckstein and Noah (1993: 9) suggest that educational reform is the main reason why examinations have ‘done more than persist’ in recent times and ‘have positively flourished’. The idea of using examinations and assessment for curricular reform, as Torrance (1995) notes, is perhaps most developed in the USA and the UK where professional debates about the merits of measurement-driven instruction have helped to put the relationship of assessment to curriculum change and school reform on the top of the educational policy agenda. The issue is of immediate importance...
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