Matric pass rate falls but the worst is still to come

Pass rate could fall by as much as 5% Class of 2015 per­formed much worse than those of pre­vi­ous years But qual­ity as­sur­ance body says tough stan­dards are here to stay

CityPress - - Front Page - SIPHO MA­SONDO sipho.ma­sondo@city­press.co.za

The matric pass rate will con­tinue to fall in the next few years – be­cause a pol­icy of rais­ing marks for pupils who do not speak English or Afrikaans as their first lan­guages is be­ing com­pletely phased out. So says Pro­fes­sor John Volmink, chair­per­son of ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity-as­sur­ance body Umalusi, who an­nounced this week that this year’s pass rate was set to drop for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year. The matric pass rate peaked at 78.2% in 2013. Last year, it de­clined to 75.8%, and the class of 2015 is set to fare even worse – by as much as 5%.

Volmink said the de­cline would con­tinue in com­ing years be­cause the lan­guage-com­pen­sa­tion strat­egy, which Umalusi uses to boost the marks of African first lan­guage speak­ers, was be­ing phased out.

Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga will release this year’s matric re­sults and pass rate at the Vo­da­com World au­di­to­rium in Midrand on Tues­day.

“It [the matric pass rate] is not go­ing to be a huge drop,” said Volmink.

“Per­son­ally, I do not think it will go be­low 70%. Ac­cord­ing to the the­ory of large sys­tems, de­clines and hikes are be­tween two and three per­cent­age points.”

Al­though the marks for African first lan­guage speak­ers are not in­creased “sig­nif­i­cantly” in terms of pol­icy, Volmink said it would be crit­i­cal to in­tro­duce in­ter­ven­tion pro­grammes to make up for the pol­icy’s scrap­ping.

“It re­mains true that can­di­dates writ­ing the ex­am­i­na­tion in a lan­guage other than their home lan­guage con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence great dif­fi­culty in in­ter­pret­ing ques­tions and phras­ing their re­sponses,” he said.

“Teach­ers’ knowl­edge of English has to be up­graded. Un­less we con­tinue with wall-to-wall cov­er­age of such pro­grammes, the re­sults will con­tinue to drop.”

Umalusi, Volmink said, took a de­ci­sion to phase out the lan­guage-com­pen­sa­tion pro­grammes be­cause they did not in­crease the pupils’ marks by much and stig­ma­tised pupils who did not use English and Afrikaans as their first lan­guages.

Tough stan­dards will re­main

Mean­while, Umalusi has re­jected sug­ges­tions that the stan­dard of matric ques­tion pa­pers is too high and should be low­ered to prop up the pass rate.

Al­though Volmink did not men­tion names, he said “some” peo­ple were ar­gu­ing that the stan­dard of the ques­tion pa­pers was “too hard”.

He added that while there was rea­son to be­lieve the rig­or­ous stan­dard of the ques­tion pa­pers con­trib­uted to the de­cline in the pass rate, Umalusi would not lower the qual­ity of the pa­pers.

In an in­ter­view with City Press, Volmink said: “We do not make the pa­pers hard be­cause we want to lower the stan­dards. We have to keep the bar where it is.

“We will not be help­ing any­one by low­er­ing the stan­dards. We are not pre­pared to lower the stan­dards. That we can­not do.”

Ac­cord­ing to mod­er­a­tors from Umalusi and the na­tional depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, the qual­ity of the stan­dard was fair and in ac­cor­dance with the sub­ject as­sess­ment guide­lines, he said.

Volmink added that the class of 2015 per­formed far worse in the ex­ams than matrics in pre­vi­ous years.

“What we have is that the re­sults were so bad that even a full com­puter ad­just­ment will not get us to where we were last year. The re­sults are so bad,” he said.

Volmink put the poor per­for­mance down to fac­tors in­clud­ing tough ques­tion pa­pers, a poor grasp of the English lan­guage by pupils who did not speak it at home, and in­creased vig­i­lance against group copy­ing.

He cited other fac­tors, such as an im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of mark­ing and a weaker co­hort of pupils that in­cluded “pro­gressed learn­ers” who were pushed into Grade 12 be­cause of the depart­ment’s pol­icy of not al­low­ing pupils to fail more than one year in grades 10 to 12.

Ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment spokesper­son Eli­jah Mh­langa said the drop was ex­pected for two rea­sons: the in­crease in the stan­dard of ques­tion pa­pers and the fact that it was the sec­ond time ex­ams for the new Curriculum As­sess­ment Pol­icy State­ment were writ­ten in matric.

Of the qual­ity of the ques­tion pa­pers, Mh­langa said: “Peo­ple have been de­mand­ing qual­ity ques­tion pa­pers. We now have qual­ity.”

‘Pass rate is mean­ing­less’

Pro­fes­sor Sarah Gravett, dean of the fac­ulty of ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Johannesburg, said the fix­a­tion with the pass rate was a waste of time.

“The pass rate or num­ber of peo­ple who passed means noth­ing.

“What is im­por­tant is the num­ber of peo­ple pass­ing gate­way sub­jects [such as maths, phys­i­cal science and ac­count­ing] and the num­ber of peo­ple pass­ing with bach­e­lor’s de­grees and those gain­ing en­trance to uni­ver­si­ties of tech­nol­ogy.

“It is nei­ther here nor there that the pass rate is in­creas­ing or de­creas­ing,” she said.

Gravett ac­knowl­edged that Umalusi had in­creased the num­ber of high-level ques­tions on ques­tion pa­pers in re­cent years.

“Umalusi is do­ing a good job in en­sur­ing that the qual­ity of ques­tion pa­pers is on par with the rest of the world. They have to bench­mark against the best in the world,” she said.

God­win Khosa, an ed­u­ca­tion aca­demic and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Col­lab­o­ra­tion Trust, said the matric re­sults needed to be used to in­form ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy.

“The in­for­ma­tion is sig­nif­i­cant to the ex­tent that we feed it into ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy. What does the in­for­ma­tion say about our ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy and the struc­ture of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem?” he asked.

“Af­ter the re­sults are re­leased, we should re­flect on a macrolevel.

“How do we struc­ture path­ways so we do not have a num­ber of kids fail­ing be­cause they have been chan­nelled into the wrong path­ways or aca­demic streams?”

What we have is that the re­sults were so bad, even a full com­puter ad­just­ment will not get us to where we were last year. The re­sults are so bad

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