Alternative Assessment Practices in Secondary Schools in Bangladesh

Alternative Assessment Practices in Secondary Schools in Bangladesh

Education and Development Research Council (EDRC)
The EDRC Journal of Learning and Teaching
Volume 6, Number 3, October 2020
ISSN 2411-3972

Ranjit Podder[1]
Md. Mizanur Rahaman Mizan[2]


The current study tried to explore the status of continuous assessment (CA) or alternative assessment in secondary schools in Bangladesh and the issues related to the implementation of CA. The researchers chose qualitative methodology for the study as it is possible to delve deep into the research problem through qualitative approach. In order to collect data, the researchers employed semi-structured interview method with four secondary teachers. The teachers were interviewed over mobile phone using a semi-structured interview schedule. The major findings of the study included-CA or alternative assessment was not implemented in schools; teachers and other stakeholders needed training for wider knowledge and skills required to implement CA; and strong monitoring and mentoring was vital for proper implementation of alternative assessment in schools. Moreover, it was revealed from the study that preservation of assessment data and documents was a challenge for the teachers. If CA or alternative assessment strategies are implemented in secondary schools of Bangladesh properly, quality of education is expected to improve.   

Keywords: Alternative assessment, continuous assessment, monitoring and mentoring, motivation, documentation

Alternative Assessment Practices in Secondary Schools in Bangladesh
Alternative Assessment Practices in Secondary Schools in Bangladesh

1. Introduction

It is believed that assessment practices have direct effect on the classroom practices, that is, what is assessed is usually practised in the classrooms (Brown, 2004). The Qudrat-e-Khuda Education Commission formed after independence in 1971, put much importance to quality of education so that humans can be turned into resources (Ministry of Education, Bangladesh, 1974). Although the commission put emphasis on the quality of education, assessment system remained paper and pencil based in most cases. As a result, although there was cognitive growth of the students, skills to use the knowledge did not develop that much. Therefore, the question of quality education remained unanswered. In order to get rid of the situation, the government of Bangladesh introduced SBA (School-Based Assessment) where students would find opportunity to practise the earned theoretical knowledge. 30% marks were allotted for internal assessment through engaging students in different activities such as pair work, group work, project work, report writing, and so on (NCTB, 2007). The name of SBA was changed into CA (continuous assessment) and allotted marks were brought down to 20%. SBA, CA, and alternative assessment strategies are synonymous. As SBA was meant for all secondary level institutions, the name SBA did not cover madras and higher secondary colleges. For madrasahs the name should have been MBA (Madrasah Based Assessment) and for colleges, it should have been CBA (College Based Assessment). A common name CA was used to cover all the secondary level institutions. CA or alternative assessment is supposed to be useful to put the knowledge into practices providing students skills alongside knowledge.

Alternative assessment or CA is assessment strategies which usually focus on skills rather than knowledge; paper and pencil tests focus more on knowledge of the students in a particular subject but CA or alternative assessment tests what a student can do with the knowledge learnt in the classroom (Podder, 2020). Only knowledge and little or no skill is like a curse for a student because their performances are disappointingly lower than their knowledge; and this kind of knowledge with little or no skill is also an indicator of low quality of education. If a student cannot relate their knowledge to real life, that cannot be called better education. For ensuring quality in education, we need to give a second thought to the current assessment system in schools and colleges; change in the assessment system may change the classroom practices. It is mentioned earlier that, unlike paper and pencil tests, alternative assessment focuses more on ‘doing’ alongside ‘knowing’. If skills are practised and assessed alongside knowledge, the quality of education is manifested in the behaviours of the learners. Parents can see what their children are able to do; society can see what the students can do with the knowledge learnt in educational institutions. For example, if students are engaged in English speaking practices and this skill is assessed, the students’ speaking skill must improve and will be noticeable in their everyday communication. In case of Mathematics, if students are engaged in measuring the areas of the classroom, their table, benches, books, etc. alongside solving problems given in the textbooks, students will be able to use the mathematical knowledge in practical life. As it is observed from the above discussion that CA or alternative assessment provide students with skills alongside knowledge, NCTB (2012) included CA in the curriculum in order to enhance quality of secondary education in Bangladesh.

1.1 Rationale for the Study

SBA was introduced around 15 years ago (NCTB, 2006) and it was renamed as CA in 2012 (NCTB, 2012) in order to implement alternative assessment strategies in all the secondary level educational institutions. It is reported that CA is not being implemented in the schools (Podder, 2020). As alternative assessment contribute to the achievement of quality in education through the development of skills, the status of CA, reasons why CA is not being implemented, and ways to implement the strategies should be explored. This study tried to find answers to the research questions placed below:

1.2 Research Questions

  1. What is the status of CA (alternative assessment) in secondary schools?
  2. Why CA (alternative assessment) is not implemented as per curriculum guidelines?
  3. How can alternative assessment be implemented in secondary level institutions?

1.3 Scope and Limitations of the Study

The participants of the study were previously known to the researchers. All of them underwent CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) or curriculum dissemination training at different times as participants. Sometimes the participants worked with the chief researcher as co-trainers. Therefore, the participants spoke freely and frankly because of the trust and faith in each other.

Although the mentioned were the scopes of the study, there were some limitations, too. The investigation was limited to only four teachers of four secondary schools of Dhaka city. This study could not include teachers practising in primary schools, higher secondary colleges, madrasahs, and vocational educational institutions. However, the study was rigorous and in-depth. Therefore, the findings of the study could be trusted because of the honest and unbiased nature of data collection and data analysis.

2. Literature Review

Since the independence, the education system of Bangladesh had the policy to introduce school-based assessment (SBA) and include higher-order questions in the public examinations as part of education reform policy (ADB, 2015). Although SBA and higher-order questions were in the policy, it was not implemented immediately after the policy was taken. SBA was introduced to the curriculum in 2006 (Begum & Farooqi, 2008). Although SBA was changed into CA (Continuous Assessment) in 2012 (NCTB, 2012) to cover all kinds of secondary level educational institutions, the activities remained almost similar. It has been mentioned in section one (1) above that SBA, CA, and alternative assessment are synonymous; activities of SBA, CA and alternative assessment are alike.  In other words, alternative assessment measures practical ability more than it measures knowledge. Janisch, Liu, and Akrof (2007) have stated that alternative assessment refers to classroom-based, qualitative, informal, or performance assessment; it is a way to measure students’ skill achievement in more informal ways.

Podder (2020) maintains that there are four major types of alternative assessment strategies which include self-assessment (keeping records of practices, progress, and achievement); peer-assessment (keeping classmates’ records of practices, progress, and contribution in accomplishing a task); student portfolios (preserving students’ writing, drawings, paintings, certificates, appreciation letter of performances in a file or folder in the classroom); and performance assessment (student presents an individual work, pair work, or group work; teacher and other students of the class ask questions or provide feedback). Moreover, Al-Mahrooqi and Denman (2008) mention commonly employed alternative assessment strategies in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) or in ESL (English as a Second Language) classrooms. Al-Mahrooqi and Denman (2008) put emphasis on video-recording students’ performances as alternative assessment strategy which, according to them, motivates the students to perform better. The assessment strategies mentioned by Al-Mahrooqi and Denman (2008) include portfolios, journals and diaries, writing folders, teacher observations, peer and teacher–student conferences, audiovisual recordings, checklists, and self-assessments. However, Sulaiman et al. (2019) and Al-Mahrooqi and Denman (2008) state that alternative assessment strategies are similar to those mentioned by Podder (2020). So far as alternative assessment strategies are concerned, teachers can devise more strategies based on what subjects they are teaching, contexts, and requirement.

A study reveals that South African students learnt many other skills because of the alternative assessment practices other than knowledge which is usually assessed in the traditional assessment system (Stears & Gopal, 2010). Gears and Gopal (2010) further reports that those students performed poorly in pen and paper tests although their performances were better when alternative assessment strategies were employed. A study by Nasri, Roslan, Sekuan, Bakar and Puteh (2010) also supports the findings of Stears and Gopal (2010). Nasri et al. (2010) claim from a survey with 50 secondary school teachers in Brunei that alternative assessment can promote active learning and improve self confidence among students (95%). 80% of the respondents stated that alternative assessment was suitable to cultivate critical and creative thinking skills; and 85% of them stated that alternative assessment did not hamper classroom teaching and learning; it supported learning.

Barbarics (2019) from his qualitative study in Hungary with four teachers show that the main purpose of Hungarian teachers using alternative assessment strategies is to exonerate students from the stressful traditional testing, engage students in different activities, and then to provide constructive feedback which improve quality of teaching and learning. According Barbarics (2019), alongside reducing students’ stress, alternative assessment strategies develop students’ creativity, communication skills, self-regulation, real-life problem solving skills, ICT-use skills, build knowledge-base and cooperation attitudes.

Watt (2005) claims from a study in Sydney with 60 Mathematics teachers from 11 secondary schools that the use of a range of alternative assessment methods helped to portray the actual knowledge and skills of the students. Although alternative assessment practices benefit students in skills achievement (Letina, 2014; Nasri et al., 2010; Barbarics, 2019; Stears & Gopal, 2009; Al-Mahrooqi & Denman, 2008; Watt, 2005), secondary level educational institutions in Bangladesh are not exploiting the benefits of it. Ahmed, Islam, and Salahuddin (2015) claim from a study in Bangladesh that, although classroom assessment is an essential component in effective classroom practices, the teachers were found to dominate the students where there was no classroom assessment strategies employed.

Although Letina (2014) recognizes the positive aspects of alternative assessment practices, he also identified some limitations regarding lack of guidelines for assessment. Latina (2014) asked for some alternative assessment guidelines or policies for better implementation of the strategies and assessing the students. Begum and Farooqi (2008) assert from a study in Bangladesh that teachers consider SBA as an extra burden on them and they claimthat the class periods do not allow implementation of SBA activities. Begum and Farooqi (2008) claim that the teachers’ opinions might be like that mentioned because most of them were not trained in SBA. Denman and Al-Mahrooqi (2018) claim that alternative assessment lacks objectivity and reliability while every teacher grades students differently and many of the teachers give full marks without proper judgment of the students’ performances. Denman and Al-Mahrooqi (2018) further maintain that traditional assessment strategies and the alternative assessment strategies should not be similar, alternative forms of assessment must be practical-based. The reviewed literature shows that although there are merits of alternative assessment strategies, there are some weaknesses too. However, benefits overweigh the weaknesses. The weaknesses can be minimized through providing training to the teachers, preparing assessment guidelines, and through improved monitoring and mentoring.

3. Research Methodology

The researcher employed qualitative research methodology as it is possible to penetrate deep into the research problem through the use of qualitative research methodology (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007).The researchers used semi-structured interview method with purposively selected four secondary teachers from four different secondary schools in Dhaka city. Interviews were conducted over mobile phone with prior permission of the interviewees; and the conversations were recorded. The data were analysed thematically which included going through the transcribed data again and again and coding them based on similarity of themes (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007). The findings of the study emerged at the time of transcribing and coding the data. Then the coded data were categorised and put under the major themes of the research questions. All the four famous teachers were invited to take part in the study. They were famous because they have name and fame in their schools as well as in the society; different organizations such as American Centre, BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), NCTB receive their services as Master Trainers and as textbook writers. They happily agreed and time was fixed for the semi-structured in-depth interviews. Among the four teachers, three were females having teaching experiences from 15 to 20 years. The teachers were given pseudonyms such as T1, T2, T3, T4 so that they cannot be identified from the reporting. 

4. Findings of the Study

The findings of the study included-CA is not implemented in schools (4.1); teachers and other stakeholders need training (4.2); and strong monitoring and mentoring is vital (4.3). The findings have been presented below:

4.1 Implementation of CA in schools

Although CA was introduced in the curriculum of 2012 (NCTB, 2012) and SBA was introduced in 2007, the implementation of CA is reported to be poor in schools (Podder, 2020). The teachers in the study also expressed that CA was not implemented in schools. T1 asserted that they did not conduct CA in their schools; instead they held some other tests in the name of Model Test and Preparation Test. NCTB (2012) approved only two examinations a year, half-yearly and year final. She claimed:

I have training in CA and I am interested in implementing CA or alternative assessment strategies in my school but I have to be much busy with preparing the tests, invigilating in the preparation and model tests, examining the scripts, preparing the result sheets, and so on. Moreover, two other examinations are there as per the curriculum guidelines. So many examinations and marking so many scripts is a barrier on the way to implementing the alternative assessment strategies.

Other teachers, too, provided similar opinions. Their interviews showed that in none of the four schools, CA or alternative assessment strategies were practised although all of them agreed that alternative assessment strategies had power to provide students with practical knowledge and skills. T4 was an assistant head teacher of a school. He used to teach Maths and science subjects. He maintained:

We do not conduct CA (or alternative assessment) in our school as it is not mandatory for us. SESIP (Secondary Education Sector Investment Program) provided us with a diary where we are supposed to plan the lessons and get the lesson plans approved by the head teacher or assistant head teacher. Most teachers do not use the diary for planning the lessons and we fill in the blank pages of the diary before the education officers come for visits.

Other two teacher participants, T2 and T3, also confessed that they also did not organize any CA in their schools. They asserted that they were not asked to do the alternative assessment by the school authority or by any other authority which indicated that there was no pressure from anyone to practise the alternative assessment strategies in schools.

The above data show that the schools do not implement CA or alternative assessment as they do not consider it important; and no authority, local or central, asks them to do CA compulsorily. Although around 40% of the teachers are trained, they do not conduct CA. As was reported by Begum and Farooqi (2008), the participating teachers of the current study also consider CA or alternative assessment as burden for them. However, Nasri et al. (2010) have alleged that alternative assessment seem to be burden to those teachers who do not have proper training in CA or alternative assessment. 

4.2 Teachers and Stakeholders Awareness in CA

The four participants claim in the interviews that around 40% of their colleagues had training in CA or alternative assessment and these40% teachers were not conversant with different assessment strategies. T3 alleged:

I have received curriculum dissemination training organized by NCTB where I came across CA or alternative assessment strategies. Moreover, I received Master Trainer training in CA but many of my colleagues are not trained. Only around 40% or 50% of my colleagues have received training in CA but most of them are not confident in implementing it.

T4 had training and he was also aware of the benefits of CA. However, he and his school did not implement alternative assessment strategies. He maintained:

I used to know the CA/alternative assessment strategies but because of lack of practices, I forgot many of the strategies. As the school authority or any other authority does not seriously want us to implement CA, we do not go for extra work. Moreover, around 60% teachers are not trained in CA or alternative assessment.

T4 further asserted that other stakeholders such as students, parents, and education officers needed to be provided with training or at least they should be sensitized with the desired changes in the curriculum so that everyone concerned supported the implementation. T1 and T3 also provided similar data that they and their schools did not organize any CA. However, they (T1 & T3) confessed that they put fake marks against the roll numbers of the students without organizing CA for 20% marks. T1 claimed:

We do not have to conduct CA in our school but we add 20% marks in each subject to determine the final results of the students. We give these fake marks so that we can show the higher authority that we conduct CA in case they come to visit our school. To start CA or alternative assessment practices in full swing, proper training is needed for those who have little or no idea of CA.

The above data show that most of the teachers are not aware of the CA strategies and their benefits. If the teachers are provided with training and motivation, teachers may be aware of the benefits and how to apply CA. Alongside providing training to the teachers on the use of the alternative assessment strategies, there should be sessions on how to assess (or mark) students’ performances in CA. The researchers believe that, in addition to teacher training for better implementation (Nasri et al., 2010), there should be arrangements for disseminating the alternative assessment ideas among students, guardians, and education officers because when all the stakeholders are aware of the possible changes in assessment, schools can easily implement alternative assessment strategies without obstacles created by anybody concerned.

4.3 Mentoring in Alternative Assessment

It was observed from the interview data and from literature that CA or alternative assessment was not in practices in schools as there was no monitoring to check if the curriculum guidelines regarding CA was being implemented or not. The interviewees claimed that they were not under compulsion to implement the CA strategies; neither the institutional heads nor anyone from higher authority visited schools to see the implementation of CA. T1 asserted:

Although I am aware of the CA strategies and the curriculum guidelines regarding CA implementation, I do not do that as no one practises CA or there is no instruction regarding the implementation of CA from the institution heads. The institution heads are much busy with Preparation Tests and Model tests.

T4 is an assistant head teacher and he has to teach in some classes. As an administrator, he firmly claimed that if not supervised by higher authority, teachers would never engage in CA implementation. T4 claimed:

In order to implement CA or alternative assessment strategies, the higher authority with sound knowledge of CA should come to visit the schools, check what the teachers are doing, mentor them so that the teachers feel empowered to implement the CA strategies.

T2 and T3 also asked for monitoring, mentoring, and motivational measures so that teachers feel encouraged to implement CA. According to them, through mentoring, the teachers can make their ideas clear through holding talks with the mentors. T3 asserted,“Although I have training, I need some more supports from experts during implementation so that my weak areas can be strengthened through talking with them”. T2 put added emphasis on the motivational activities. She asserted:

My experiences show that most of the teachers are not motivated to work hard and sincerely for the students. They just want to do the routine work; they do not want to try new ideas; they love to do things traditionally. For that reason, motivational activities need to be taken from the school authority or from the higher authority.

The four participating teachers informed that some schools started to implement CA at the beginning but they faced problem regarding preserving the data and the assessment documents. One of the four teachers, T4, disclosed that he did not find the results of the class tests and assessment documents when the school authority asked for the 20% marks in Mathematics. Then he had to provide fake marks in order to avoid hassle and dishonor from the colleagues and the head teacher. Another teacher T2stated:

Our school began to implement CA in around 2014 and 2015, but it did not work because of the negligence of the teachers including the head teacher. The school authority did not tell us how to assess students continuously and how/where to preserve the assessment data and documents. I did not have any secured space in the common room to preserve the necessary documents.

T1 disclosed that she preserved the documents and the result sheets in her drawer but was facing difficulties as all students of a class were not assessed together; students were assessed on different days in a small number. However, T3 informed that she noted down the data against the roll numbers of the students in the attendance register. T3 claims that, there was also a problem. As there was not enough space in the attendance register, after some days, she could not understand what the data is meant for. She stated:

Although I write the marks or grades of the students in the students’ attendance register, I cannot write details about the marks or grades; why I awarded that marks or grades; what was the assessment on, etc. As a result, I forget what that marks or grades mean, why I gave it, etc.

NCTB (2012) introduced CA in the curriculum and provided training to many teachers to implement CA in schools. However, the schools were not implementing the curriculum guidelines regarding CA mainly because there was no monitoring and mentoring from any organizations. Alongside monitoring and mentoring, there should be motivational activities as Tan (2012) claims that traditional teachers do not have any appetite for alternative assessment but teachers with progressive ideas and high motivation level can move forward with alternative assessment plans. Preserving the assessment data and analyzing them properly is important for taking further actions. Unless the data can be preserved systematically so that they can be retrieved immediately when necessary, it is difficult for teachers to give the final or average marks or grades to the students’ performances. However, a separate register one full page dedicated for each student can solve the mentioned data preservation issues. Additionally, it is known from BEDU (Bangladesh Examination Development Unit) sources that they have prepared software aiming to solve the data preservation problems of the school teachers (Podder, 2020). Teachers would be able to input data just after assessment and they can retrieve them any time they require. 

5. Conclusion

The findings of the study showed that most of the secondary schools do not implement CA; teachers and other stakeholders such as students, parents, education officers require training; monitoring and mentoring is a vital issue emerged from the study. Only training may not be enough, alternative assessment must be made mandatory for better implementation (Podder, 2020) of CA in schools. If the alternative assessment or CA strategies are implemented in secondary level educational institutions, the quality of education is expected to improve. Therefore, the education authority should take necessary actions for better implementation of CA or alternative assessment in secondary level educational institutions.


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[1]Associate Professor, Govt. Teachers’ Training College, Dhaka;


[2]Research Student, Govt. Teachers’ Training College, Dhaka;


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