The more things change...

Grocott's Mail - - MATRIC 2016 -

The re­sults of Gra­ham­stown’s 2016 public school ma­tric­u­lants have sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions. Per­for­mance in the June and Septem­ber (‘Trial’) ex­am­i­na­tions pointed to a likely ag­gre­gate pass rate in the vicin­ity of 55%.

Yet the re­sults re­leased on 5 Jan­uary yielded a city pass rate of 70,5%, which is a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment on the 61.6% pass rate of 2015.

In this anal­y­sis I delve into the num­bers and sta­tis­tics with a view to try­ing to make sense of both 2016 re­al­i­ties and un­der­ly­ing trends in the lo­cal re­sults over the re­cent pe­riod.

Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga an­nounced the na­tional re­sults in a tele­vi­sion broad­cast on 4 Jan­uary. It was a con­fus­ing and highly se­lec­tive ren­di­tion, char­ac­terised by nu­mer­ous gaffes, most no­tably her con­tin­ued ref­er­ence to Math­e­mat­ics, English and the like as ‘get­away sub­jects’ rather than ‘gate­way sub­jects’.

The most use­ful com­ment she made was her ad­mis­sion that “the Grade 12 ex­am­i­na­tions are not pri­mar­ily de­signed to mea­sure whether there is progress in the sys­tem as a whole, or even in in­di­vid­ual schools. The main pur­pose of these ex­am­i­na­tions is to pro­vide learn­ers with an exit qual­i­fi­ca­tion”.

This is the con­text in which Umalusi’s stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of the re­sults should be un­der­stood.

Ev­ery year, the qual­ity as­sur­ance body con­sid­ers the raw marks of the 60 or so ma­tric sub­jects, in re­la­tion to the re­sults of pre­vi­ous years. Based on this con­sid­er­a­tion, in 2016 Umalusi ad­justed 32 sub­jects. That is, it ac­cepted and re­tained the re­sults that learn­ers ac­tu­ally ob­tained in less than half of the sub­jects.

Of the 32 sub­jects ad­justed by Umalusi, 28 were ad­justed up­wards (the re­sults were in­flated) and only four down­wards. That is, on bal­ance the marks that ap­pear on learn­ers’ State­ments of Re­sults are higher than the marks that they ac­tu­ally ob­tained in the ex­am­i­na­tions.

It is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in the lo­cal con­text to em­pha­sise that three of the sub­jects that were ad­justed up­wards were those that are his­tor­i­cally the most failed in Gra­ham­stown, namely Math­e­mat­i­cal Lit­er­acy, Life Sci­ences and Ge­og­ra­phy.

Let me point out the im­pli­ca­tions of this on the pass rate by look­ing specif­i­cally at Math­e­mat­i­cal Lit­er­acy.

Through the course of 2016, this was the most prob­lem­atic of all ma­tric sub­jects at the city’s town­ship schools. The av­er­age in Math­e­mat­i­cal Lit­er­acy in the Trial ex­am­i­na­tions was less than 30%.

That is, a ma­jor­ity of learn­ers reg­is­tered for Math­e­mat­i­cal Lit­er­acy at these schools failed this sub­ject in Septem­ber.

A learner fails out­right if he or she fails two or more sub­jects. The large num­ber of Math­e­mat­i­cal Lit­er­acy fail­ures un­der­pinned a num­ber of out­right fails.

Umalusi has dis­closed that in Math­e­mat­i­cal Lit­er­acy in 2016, a raw mark of 30% was in­creased up to 37% through the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion process.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, this up­ward ad­just­ment bol­stered the pass rates sig­nif­i­cantly. For ex­am­ple, at one of town­ship schools the av­er­age in Math­e­mat­i­cal Lit­er­acy in Tri­als was 24% whereas in Fi­nals it in­creased all the way up to 38%.

This was one of the fac­tors that re­sulted in the over­all pass rate at that par­tic­u­lar school al­most dou­bling from Tri­als to Fi­nals. (This also as­sisted the Gadra Ma­tric School to record a 100% pass rate for the first time in over a decade.)

In other words, Umalusi’s stan­dard­i­s­a­tion process had a dra­matic ef­fect on over­all school pass rates.

If Umalusi’s mis­sion is, in the words of its CEO Mafu Rakometsi, “to de­liver a rel­a­tively con­stant prod­uct to the mar­ket”, then it has ac­com­plished this pretty well in Gra­ham­stown.

Over the past four years, 409 (2016), 424 (2015), 409 (2014) and 416 (2013) lo­cal can­di­dates have ob­tained a Na­tional Se­nior Cer­tifi­cate, and 171 (2016), 179 (2015), 193 (2014) and 187 (2013) have ob­tained Bach­e­lor level passes.

But the cost of this con­sis­tency, it should be un­der­stood, is a steady low­er­ing of stan­dards. As Nic Spaull and oth­ers have pointed out, uni­ver­si­ties re­spond to this by con­tin­u­ously in­creas­ing their ad­mis­sion cri­te­ria.

A per­cent­age pass rate is pro­duced by di­vid­ing the num­ber of can­di­dates who passed by the to­tal of can­di­dates who wrote the ex­am­i­na­tions.

Above it was noted that the num­ber of pass­ing can­di­dates pro­duced by the city over the past four years has re­mained in a tight range be­tween a low of 409 (pro­duced in 2016 and 2014) and a high of 424 (pro­duced in 2015).

Yet the pass rate has fluc­tu­ated much more sig­nif­i­cantly, across a much greater range, from a low of 60.5% in 2013 to a high of 72.8% in 2014.

This of course is ex­plained by ref­er­ence to the fact that the num­ber of can­di­dates who have sat for the fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tions in Gra­ham­stown has swung wildly in re­cent years, from 688 in 2013 down to 562 in 2014, then back up to 688 in 2015 and fi­nally down to 580 in 2016.

In this re­gard, Gra­ham­stown has not fol­lowed the na­tional trend of in­creas­ing Wrote 2013 num­bers of full-time ma­tric can­di­dates. Para­dox­i­cally, when the city does bet­ter at learner re­ten­tion (i.e. in years when more learn­ers make it to ma­tric and write their fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tions) its pass rate drops and when it does worse at learner re­ten­tion, its pass rate rises.

2016 was a bad year for learner re­ten­tion and a good year for the pass rate.

One of the main rea­sons for the lower num­ber of can­di­dates in 2016 was the Depart­ment’s in­sis­tence on so-called mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion fairly late in the year. This new pol­icy dic­tated that pro­gressed ma­tric­u­lants who did not pass their Trial ex­am­i­na­tions were not per­mit­ted to write the fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tions as full-time stu­dents. (Pro­gres­sion is the con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy that en­ables cer­tain learn­ers who fail Grade 11 to ‘progress’ to Grade 12.)

Af­fected learn­ers were forced to split their sub­jects across two sets of ex­am­i­na­tions (Oc­to­ber/ Novem­ber 2016 and June 2017). In this way, they were taken out of the full-time 2016 sta­tis­tics, thereby el­e­vat­ing the pass rate.

For ex­am­ple, Mary Wa­ters started the year with 143 full­time can­di­dates but only 120 were re­sulted on 5 Jan­uary, and Nt­sika started with 87 but only 70 re­mained as full-time can­di­dates at year-end.

So, what pro­gres­sion did, mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion un-did. Mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion mit­i­gated the ef­fects that un­bri­dled pro­gres­sion would have had on the 2016 pass rate.

In all of this, the ones who lose aca­dem­i­cally and ed­u­ca­tion­ally are the pro­gressed/ mod­u­larised in­di­vid­ual learn­ers.

The most sig­nif­i­cant in­di­ca­tor of a good qual­ity ma­tric cer­tifi­cate is a ‘Bach­e­lor level’. Can­di­dates ob­tain this ac­co­lade by ob­tain­ing more than 50% in four des­ig­nated (or univer­sity recog­nised) sub­jects and it en­ables them to ap­ply Passed Wrote 2014 School to uni­ver­si­ties to pur­sue Bach­e­lor level stud­ies.

Over the pe­riod 2013–2015 Gra­ham­stown’s schools pro­duced be­tween 179 and 193 Bach­e­lor passes per year.

In 2016, the num­ber pro­duced de­clined marginally, down to 171. While the 2016 de­cline is re­gret­table, again these data in­di­cate a sys­tem that is sta­ble or at least rea­son­ably con­sis­tent in re­la­tion to out­comes achieved at the top-end.

How­ever, prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant com­ment to make about the pro­duc­tion of public school Bach­e­lor passes in Gra­ham­stown is that the vast ma­jor­ity of them come from the for­mer ‘Model C’ schools, namely Vic­to­ria Girls’ High School, Graeme Col­lege and Hoërskool PJ Olivier.

In 2016 these three schools ob­tained 120 Bach­e­lor passes, whereas the six town­ship high schools pro­duced 51. If one looks at or­di­nary passes dur­ing re­cent years, over 95% of learn­ers at for­mer Model C schools ob­tain cer­tifi­cates, whereas be­tween 50% and 60% of town­ship school ma­tric­u­lants make the grade.

How­ever, this dif­fer­en­tial widens con­sid­er­ably when look­ing at the per­cent­ages of learn­ers that ob­tain Bach­e­lor level passes at the two dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of schools; his­tor­i­cally, be­tween 70% and 80% of learn­ers at for­mer Model C schools in Gra­hams- Wrote 2015 Passed town ob­tain Bach­e­lor passes, whereas only be­tween 10% and 15% of ma­tric­u­lants at town­ship schools reach this level. In 2016, the per­cent­ages in this re­gard are 71% and 12% re­spec­tively. That is to say, seven out of ev­ery 10 ma­tric­u­lants at Vic­to­ria Girls, Graeme and PJ Olivier ob­tained a Bach­e­lor level NSC in 2016, whereas only one of ev­ery 10 learn­ers at Nt­sika, Mary Wa­ters, Nom­bulelo, Nathaniel Nyaluza, TEM Mr­wetyana and Khut­liso Daniels ex­ited the school­ing sys­tem with this in­valu­able qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

These di­vides are wide, deep and stub­born.

The cat­e­gori­sa­tion used above is nec­es­sary for an­a­lytic rea­sons, but it would be in­cor­rect to paint all schools within each cat­e­gory with the same brush.

As far as the for­mer Model C schools are con­cerned, Vic­to­ria Girls and Graeme are to be warmly com­mended for hav­ing achieved a 100% pass rate, with the for­mer again con­tribut­ing the lion’s share of public school Bach­e­lors.

Turn­ing at­ten­tion to the for­mer town­ship schools, the most note­wor­thy devel­op­ment is the on­go­ing rise of Nt­sika. For the first time since I have been analysing Gra­ham­stown re­sults, a town­ship school has ob­tained a higher pass rate than a for­mer Model C school in the ma­tric ex­ami- Wrote 2016 Passed na­tions.

The real high­light of Nt­sika’s per­for­mance, though, is its dou­bling of Bach­e­lor passes, from 11 in 2015 to 22 in 2016.

It is also nec­es­sary to note that se­lect learn­ers at var­i­ous town­ship schools pro­duced truly out­stand­ing re­sults.

In this re­gard, I would like to sin­gle out Vuyolwethu Zu­mani, Monique Stock and Akhusele Somh­lahlo. These and other de­ter­mined and ded­i­cated young peo­ple de­serve the whole­hearted praise and ac­cla­ma­tion of all the city’s res­i­dents.

Struc­tural con­ti­nu­ity

In con­clu­sion, what is be­com­ing in­creas­ing clear is that public school­ing in Gra­ham­stown is char­ac­terised by what can be termed ‘struc­tural con­ti­nu­ity’. At the macro level, ev­ery year it pro­duces a sim­i­lar num­ber of ma­tric passes and a sim­i­lar num­ber of Bach­e­lor passes.

Year in and year out, per­for­mance dif­fers vastly be­tween the for­mer Model C schools and the town­ship schools. Yet in 2016 the es­teemed prin­ci­pal at Nt­sika, Madeleine Schoe­man, has shown that lead­er­ship and re­solve can be re­mark­ably ef­fec­tive, even in the most try­ing of cir­cum­stances. • Ash­ley West­away is the man­ager of Gadra


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