On March 12, Thursday, pupils belonging to the test groups covered by the National Achievement Test (NAT) program become the focus of a government exercise on education.
Much of the whole school year, teachers in the Grade Six level have been preparing for the NAT. It would seem we are teaching not for the regular learning package required for Grade Six but delve on the least mastered skills of pupils who already had taken the test. Sounds funny, even ridiculous, why we put so much fuss in the NAT. What is NAT by the way?
NAT is an examination given annually in March to assess the competency of both public and private school students. Knowledge and skills are tested in the subjects of Mathematics, English, Science, Filipino, and HEKASI for grade school while Mathematics, English, Science, Filipino, and Araling Panlipunan for high school. The test is administered by the Department of Education’s National Education Testing and Research Center (NETRC).
Test results are intended to guide the Department of Education towards the improvement of the quality of education in public schools and to provide appropriate intervention for the students. A score of 75% and above indicates mastery of the subject, and 50% to less than 75%, near mastery; while a score of below 50% indicates low mastery.
The NAT is a rehash of the National Elementary Achievement Test (NEAT) for the grade school level and the National Secondary Achievement Test (NSAT) for the high school level. Both NEAT and NSAT were precursors of the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), an examination administered to gauge the competency of students entering college.
The NCEE was abolished in 1994 through Executive Order no. 632 by then education secretary Raul Roco who stated that all high school students should be able to enter college and be given a chance of a better career in the future. It was replaced by NEAT and NSAT. When the Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS) was converted into the Department of Education (DepEd), NEAT and NSAT were also abolished and replaced by the National Achievement Test for public and private elementary schools.
Since school year 2002-2003, the test has been administered to grade 3, grade 6, and 2nd year high school students. From 2004 – 2006, the NAT was also given to high school seniors under the direction of Secretary Edilberto De Jesus as a special measure to further aid in the assessment of school performance. The schools from Eastern Visayas and CARAGA made it to the top 2 for school years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 while the schools in ARMM, NCR and Western Visayas were in the bottom 3. Science was found to be the subject of lowest competence for both elementary and high school students. There was general deterioration seen in the results from school years 2004 to 2006 but by 2008 an improvement surfaced, especially in the subject of Science, with the number of students to have low mastery of each subject consistently decreasing.
The target of the DepEd for a 75% mastery level is simply impossible. It might be possible for some schools to hit the mark or even higher when school population is under consideration. Using my own experience, achieving a high rating in the NAT is difficult. The questions especially in the English subject are loaded with long sentences, paragraphs that require a lot of reading and call for a better comprehension. Reading comprehension is one of the problems of our pupils aside from the need of memorizing, analyzing and applying important facts learned in Math, Science, HEKASI and Filipino.
But why do we need to worry so much for the NAT results? Through this examination, the National Education Testing and Research Center, DepEd’s testing arm, seeks to determine each student’s competency level under the department’s regular and bridge education program. Under the bridge program, parents can have their sixth-grade children undergo one more year of elementary education to hone their skills in English, Filipino, Math and Science. However, assurance from the government the exam will not be a basis for public schools in the acceptance of incoming high school or college freshmen. The general policy is to accept all students at any public school as long as they complete all requirements at the previous level. Then, we don’t have to worry if our pupils get a low NAT result!
The NAT has become a measure of the competence of teachers. It is even used as a measure of the teachers’ productivity. I think this is unfair. The poor or good performance in the NAT is due to many factors and not on the teachers’ part alone. Because of this, there’s a tendency and temptation for some to cheat to have a higher NAT result for the school. There seems to be a competition even among the higher education officials regarding the NAT scores obtained by the schools under their supervision.
Still, I don’t say that it doesn’t matter if the pupils will have low ratings in the NAT exam. A higher NAT result is always the best morale booster for a teacher especially if one has been doing his part. Pupils don’t even see the relevance of the NAT. If they get a low mark, they can still enroll come the next school year. Amidst all these pressures and measures the DepEd is implementing a quality education in the country (sic). But the teachers suffer (please pardon my word) the most. Ordinary pupils do not even feel its relevance given the general norm of mass promotion, “No failure, no drop-out”, the child protection policy and other measures the DepEd implements ruins it all.
Does the Department of Education National Achievement Test serve its purpose or do we hope and pray it will be abolished soon like the other tests?