By Estanislao Albano, Jr.
By his mere handling and appreciation of what happened in the National Achievement Test (NAT) in 2016 and 2017, one could tell that Senator Sherwin Gatchalian and most probably all members of the Senate subcommittee on education were just going through the motions in their probe into the real state of our basic education. In 2016, the mean percentage score (MPS) of the Grade 6 NAT fell by a shocking 24.44 and all Gatchalian could say was that it was a proof of the ineffectivity of the K-12 program. The other members of the subcommittee did not think the matter worth commenting on.
Had Gatchalian done his assignment, the subcommittee would have established the truth about the reliability or unreliability of assessment tools being used by the Department of Education (DepEd).
The margin was both abnormal and unprecedented. From 2007 until 2015, the highest difference from one year to the next was 4.87. Given this background, any serious investigator would have asked himself if the quality of education could undergo such a drastic change in one examination and would have tried to dig out the reasons.
The disaster was not isolated because in 2017, the national average MPS sunk further by 5.04. This showed that whatever caused the disaster in 2016 was not addressed by the DepEd immediately.
Had the committee nosed around, they would have found out that what sets the NAT in 2016 and 2017 apart was that these were given at the start of the following school year which meant that on the part of Grade 6 NAT, the takers were already in Grade 7. A DepEd high school teacher had informed me that because of the different setting, the widespread fraud which used to attend the examinations did not occur in 2016 and 2017. She explained that the practices of leaking the answers to pupils or actually coaching them during the exams were rampant in public elementary schools and that she had met Grade 7 students with near perfect NAT scores who “could hardly spell words intended for Grade 6.”
DepEd Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction Lorna Dig-Dino disputed the allegation that fraud explains the debacles. She claimed that among the factors that may have contributed to the low MPS in 2017 was the change in its design such that it now gauges the 21st century skills of children.
Dig-Dino’s clarification raises more questions than gives satisfactory answers.
First, the DepEd calendar of activities from SYs 2012-2013 to 2016-2017, stated that the NAT for the school year will assess the attainment of 21st century skills. Regardless of whether or not the NATs were given as prescribed in the calendars, the mere mention of the intention means 21st century skills were already being taught ahead of that school year so how come would the new design of the test take all the takers from one end of the archipelago to the other by surprise in 2016?
Second, given the massive MPS loss, acceptance of Dig-Dino’s explanation is like saying the DepEd knows next to nothing about teaching 21st century skills. Take the cases of the three regions which have been dominating the NAT for many years losing practically half of their MPS. No. 1 CARAGA, scored 39.40 MPS in 2016 which was only 49.50 percent of its previous score. No. 2 Eastern Visayas got 41.93 or 45.59 lower than its MPS the previous year. No. 3 MIMAROPA which scored 75.93 in 2015 garnered 41.49 in 2016 for a gap of 35.57. As surreal as a consistent first honor pupil who, when he transferred to another school, could no longer pass quizzes.
Third, by contrast, the Grade 10 NAT only incurred a decrease of 5.55 in 2016t. Compared with Grade 6, there is not much allegation of fraud attending the Grade 10 NAT. If the alleged new design had something to do with the disaster, then the Grade 10 NAT would also have taken a similar beating.
Also, how come the DepEd has been silent about this alleged incapacity of its teachers to teach 21st century skills? It’s website is clear of any issuance, statement or press releases urging schools to exert their utmost best to train students in the 21st century skills or just vaguely related to the subject. The regional DepEd websites are also devoid of any reference to the 2016 and 2017 debacles as though it’s a nightmare the entire organization wants to blot from their memories.
The Senate could have uncovered the truth on the NAT massacre and in the process lay to rest these persistent allegations of cheating by validating scores prior to 2016. The scores should be checked against the class performance of students and by giving them an appropriate alternative standardized tests. For the activity to maximally serve its purpose, to be targeted are students of ranking NAT schools in remote barangays in the erstwhile top NAT regions. The activity should be open to non-DepEd observers including the media.
However, with Gatchalian and his colleagues dumbly thinking that a 26.44 MPS fall in a single school year in an standardized test is normal and not worth looking into, this Congress has missed a golden opportunity to confront and rectify a weak link in Philippine basic education. **