Re: JAMB’s mediocre cutoff: An unconventional view
No doubt, Farooq Kperogi’s “unconventional view” (Daily Trust September 2, 2017) on the above subject matter made an interesting reading as one of the possible approaches required by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for addressing the UTME/Universities admission conundrum. I certainly agree with Farooq that the approach of using “… recommendation letters, … admission essays … interviews for courses that require it, in addition to WAEC/NECO results and UTME scores” to be weighted and considered by routinely constituted Universities Admissions Committee is much better than arbitrary lowering of UTME cutoff marks. Some critical clarifications are, however, necessary in his submission.
Foremost, except where Vice Chancellors choose to overmonopolize the entire admission process (and there are instances of such), it is already a convention in most Nigerian universities that University Central Admissions Committees (UCACs) are charged with the responsibility of drawing up appropriate criteria and selection of prospective candidates for admission. The criteria used by the UCACs embrace value assessments of candidates O’ Level results (WAEC, NECO, NABTEB), including the UTME cutoff marks of respective universities which in most cases are often above the minimum national cutoff mark set by JAMB.
For all Nigerian universities, the Post-UTME Exercises of prospective candidates also includes screening of candidates credentials and in most cases interviews and (or) further administration of written tests set by respective Departments of the Universities. The problem, however, for most universities is the nonstandardization of the Post-UTME Exercises which leads to abuses of the selection criteria.
Secondly, it is important to note that from psychometric point of view, standardized tests are not oneshot developed tests. They do require items development and building over a period of time. And indeed, psychometricians and developers of any kinds of tests (intelligence, academic achievement, creative thinking, aptitudes, etc.) never make claims that the outcomes of such tests provide “… accurate indicators…” of whatever they are purported to measure (academic preparedness, intelligence, creativity, academic aptitudes, etc.) at any levels of the Education System.
Hence, whether as Farooq tried to illustrate, the UTME and O’ Level results may or may not be accurate predictors of performance capabilities of candidates in Nigerian universities is not the issue at stake in the lowering of UTME cutoff marks by JAMB to abysmally poor levels. Indeed, contrary to Farooq’s cited studies in the US (which do not validate any similar coincidences in Nigeria), tracer studies (including those by JAMB) in Nigeria shows significant correlations between university students’ UTME and O’ Level results on the one hand and academic performance in the universities on the other hand.
The issue is that lowering of UTME cutoff marks by JAMB simply amounts to providing a wider field for universities to admit mediocre candidates with poorer academic competitive values in the system. That is where the worry lies about the implications of the fail level UTME cutoff marks (whether determined by JAMB or the Heads of Tertiary Institutions who knew they would not admit students with such ridiculous cutoff marks, yet went on to endorse it?).
Thirdly and most importantly is the issue of whether JAMB should conduct academic achievement or academic aptitude tests. Indeed, the examples of Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT), American College Testing (ACT), or even the British versions as used for admission reference by universities that so desire in those climes provide the illustration of how standardized forms of psychometric tests are used by universities, colleges and even professional bodies for admission and induction selections respectively.
While standardized academic achievement tests are what UTME and the O’ Level Exams represent, academic aptitude tests are not in use in Nigeria by any examination bodies (not even NABTEB that was so established to do so) for purposes of determining candidates’ potentials for university or tertiary institution courses of their choice. The reason SAT and ACT are not compulsory for use in American universities and colleges is because the bodies which develop, standardize and administer these tests, particularly the aptitude ones do so not just for admission purposes, but also for selection into academic and professional programmes as well as for determining admissibility and suitability for professional practices by professional organizations.
For purposes of clarity, while academic achievement tests (as in the case of UTME by JAMB and the O’ Level Exams by WAEC, NECO and NABTEB) are standardized to determine the extent of mastery of knowledge of various subjects as expected to have been taught at Senior Secondary Level of the Education System, standardized academic aptitude tests are usually designed to determine the cognate academically related skills potentials which candidates possess to be able to cope and maintain the relevant cognitive capacities and motivation to accomplish tasks required for success in academic or professional programmes at the higher level (i. e. tertiary institutions).
The problem in Nigeria is that JAMB, NECO, WAEC and NABTEB make no distinction between academic achievement and academic aptitude tests. Unfortunately too, the Post-UTME tests are anything else, but certainly not standardized or aptitude tests by any criteria of psychometric test properties. And this means that prospective tertiary institution students are simply barged by three to four academic achievement tests which overall do not determine their potentials for programmes they apply to read, particularly the professional courses like the medical sciences, engineering, accountancy, teacher education, etc.
Indeed, if the unconvincing reason (i. e. that the UTME scores are meant for ranking purposes and not for determining admissibility of candidates for universities) as reported to have been given by the JAMB Registrar is anything to go by, then JAMB could as well allow universities to set their own cutoff marks. The challenge for JAMB is to reposition itself to becoming more of developing “Tertiary Institutions Programmes Pre-admission and Professional Entries Induction Aptitude Tests” rather than resorting to lowering of cutoff marks to ridiculous levels and thereby making mockery of our already poor tertiary education standards.
Prof. Kolo is former Vice Chancellor, IBB University, Lapai, Niger State.
My Short Response
You claim that studies in Nigeria show a direct relationship between UTME scores and success in undergraduate education. But you didn’t cite the studies. Nor did you quote from them. A Nigerian educationist wrote to tell me that the US study I cited last week was replicated in Nigeria and that the results were similar. Why should I believe you and not him?
Yet again, you said the object of standardized tests isn’t to determine success in undergraduate education. That’s a contradiction. So what’s the point of the tests, then? You can’t, in the same breath claim that UTME tests predict success in undergraduate education and claim that the tests are not intended to measure success in anything. On the basis of claims that do not add up logically and that undermine each other, you proceeded to suggest that, “The issue is that lowering of UTME cutoff marks by JAMB simply amounts to providing a wider field for universities to admit mediocre candidates with poorer academic competitive values in the system.”
You can’t have it both ways. If tests, including the UTME, are not intended to be accurate predictors of success “of whatever they are purported to measure,” how can a lowering UTME cutoff cause “mediocre candidates with poorer academic competitive value in the system”?