How the National Assessment mock disaster can be turned around

The disastrous results from the National Assessment simulation should no longer surprise anyone. Because there were still warning signs. Unfortunately, little or no attention is paid to it. The latest, at the end of last year, when the PISA tests placed us first in Europe for functional illiteracy. The question is what do we do from now on? Do children still have time to recover in four months what they did not learn in four or even eight years of school? Expert opinions are divided. One thing is certain: urgent measures are required! What do representatives of the Ministry of Education do? shut up

More than 50% of students got grades below 5 in mathematics. Photo source: Archive

A biblical mobilization is needed – teachers, students, parents – so that in the summer we can talk about a National Assessment and not about a National Failure or Disaster.

Teacher: “I don't believe in miracles”

“But it's good that it happened that way. It's a cold shower that maybe we all needed.” Prof. Romeo Zamfir, the director of the “Vasile Alecsandri” National College in Galati, stated for “Adevărul”, the best school in Romania in 2023 according to the average of the National Evaluation.

“There are still a few months until the exam, I can still recover something. How much remains to be seen. It depends on case by case. If you are grade 1, say, you have nothing to recover. If you're a four there's a chance you'll get a five maybe even a six”, the official also mentions.

Prof. Andreia Bodea, director of the IL Caragiale National College in Bucharest, is, however, skeptical. “Miracles in three and a half months cannot happen. If we leave now with a child who does not know that multiplication is done first and then addition… it seems impossible to recover anything… you recover maybe in the case of those who already have a knowledge base. On the other hand..any hundredth won, any point won is a point won. But I don't expect miracles”she said.

And Iulian Cristache, the president of the Parents' Federation, is of the same opinion. “Those who took grades two and three.. hard to believe they will take more in the summer exam. Maybe they will recover in the sense of reaching a passing grade if the subjects are easier. But… you can't do in three, four months what you haven't done in eight years!”, he shows.

I also asked for the opinion of an academic. Univ. Prof. Dr. Daniel David, rector of the University “Babeș-Bolyai” is a little more optimistic. He told us that the chances are that these children will recover as much as possible. “If you do an education that takes these results into account, some things can improve. Three months is quite a long time to correct certain things. Now, we don't expect major changes. But there are basic things you can still do. You won't be able to get those with grades two or three to eight or nine, but with a five or six you might be able to.” says David.

A collective fault

Until we discuss precisely how we ended up in such a situation, here are, in brief, the results of the simulation of the National Assessment: almost 60% of the students failed to obtain grade 5 in Mathematics, this in the context in which they had to deal with, including 2nd house requirements. Regarding the Romanian language test, more than a quarter of the candidates scored below 5. 63% of the children were penalized for spelling mistakes. Most often, because I don't capitalize the beginning of a sentence or the names of people. 73% percent were penalized for punctuation. For them the comma, the period, the exclamation mark or the question mark are a real mystery. Moreover, 69% of candidates made mismatches and misspelled the spellings.

How did we allow something like this to happen? On the one hand, many experts say, the disaster happened, among other things, also because of the pandemic that locked children in the house and forced them to learn for two years in front of a laptop. We are therefore talking about a collective disability. Let's not forget that these children we put against the wall and point the accusing finger at “I come after two years of online education. And that shows. The pandemic has long-term effects”, say the specialists. “It is true that this set of children started 5th grade learning online. We know that in many situations there was no schooling at all. Suddenly we are talking about a circumstance that made things worse. Then..the teacher crisis. Teachers who didn't make it online”explains the director of the ILCaragiale National College.

However, there are also voices that do not agree and consider that invoking such a reason actually hides a kind of unassumed incompetence. “The pandemic may be a hypothesis, but I don't know how long it will last. We had bad results in other years before the pandemic”, explained Prof. Dr. Daniel David, statements reinforced by the president of the Federation of Parents. “Let's be serious! The children have so far passed the assessment from the 6th grade, they had time, these are some excuses… not like us, the others”, says the parent.

On the other hand, Prof. Andreia Bodea continues, in Romania there are still schools that do not have enough teachers, especially in rural areas, but there are also schools that have poorly trained teachers. “Added to this is children's disinterest in school in general. Fewer and fewer people come to school to learn. And math is not easy. Mathematics means practice, a well-trained teacher who knows how to teach and an interested student in the bank. If any element of these three is missing then we are headed for disaster.” says the director.

Iulian Cristache told us that among the reasons for this disaster is the fact that the students had not yet entered the recapitulation of the subject. “That might be one of the reasons. Although, let's be serious, with recapitulation or without, mathematics is not forgotten with one, with two”.

“Let's set fire to the prison and the madhouse”

What else can be done in three and a half months? Fatting the pig on Eve would be the only solution.“In this piece of time that is left, my colleagues, for example, continue to give simulations in class with various exercises. Let's all put our stomachs on the book, that's what we have to do!”, is the advice of the principal of Caragiale high school.

What should be done to resuscitate the education system in general? Things are not simple but a first step, says Prof. Dr. Daniel David, could be on loan from outside. “One should be taken education model European that works, let's adapt it to our needs, we implement it without creating new curricula on top of curricula”, this is his opinion.

Indeed, the system must be reformed from the ground up. There are children, says Prof. Andreia Bodea, who in the 7th grade read by following the lines on the page with their fingers. There are children who in the eighth grade do not know the order of operations, which you learn in the third, fourth grade. “The children were taught to practice on certain patterns. They no longer learn mathematics or the Romanian language, they learn to pass an exam. If you have removed them from this pattern, although you remain inside the program, it is misfortune. They learn by heart some predefined things, and when you take them out of their environment you find that they actually don't know how to think logically. This is what the Romanian school does, unfortunately. Memorization also has its role, but with us the percentage of information that is memorized without even being understood is extremely high. In Romanian, for example, students understand the meaning of a word, but they don't understand it in a context”, warns the teaching staff.

Iulian Cristache completes the idea by saying that students learn “patterned”, but here it is no longer their fault, but the outdated system. “If you take them out of the practice tests they do during the exam preparation period, the kids don't know how to adapt.”

The rector of “Babeș-Bolyai” University, however, really points the finger at the wound and complains that good teachers are rare. “The best graduates from universities do not return to the department. He prefers to go to the private environment. And that's because I collapsed the status of the teacher. We need to correct this. Let's get graduates back to school. We cannot do education without having a decent status and salary for pre-university teachers. In vain you come to say..dedication…Dedication comes after I have a decent salary. First, the dignity of the teacher's status must be ensured”, May draws Daniel David's attention.