Noth­ing un­to­ward about stan­dard­i­s­a­tion

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

IT IS dis­ap­point­ing that while we have done so well in this year’s Na­tional Se­nior Cer­tifi­cate (NSC) ex­am­i­na­tions, some­one who has lit­tle or no ex­pe­ri­ence in the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion process could call the en­tire process into ques­tion in a bid to dis­credit the re­sults.

It must be made clear that the NSC re­sults are not the only re­sults that are qual­ity-as­sured and stan­dard­ised by Umalusi. The In­de­pen­dent Ex­am­i­na­tions Board (IEB) and the De­part­ment of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing (DHET), among oth­ers, also go through stan­dard­i­s­a­tion and are qual­ity-as­sured by Umalusi.

I will strongly de­fend the cred­i­bil­ity of the team of recog­nised aca­demics that form the Umalusi board be­fore I take se­ri­ously the ill-in­formed opin­ions of an op­po­si­tion MP who holds a qual­i­fi­ca­tion in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, not sta­tis­tics or ed­u­ca­tion. Umalusi is made up of doc­tors and pro­fes­sors in the var­i­ous rel­e­vant fields. Gavin Davis is sim­ply not qual­i­fied to dis­credit the in­tri­cate process of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion con­ducted by these ex­perts.

The fact that he chose to abuse his par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege of hav­ing been in­vited to be part of the au­di­ence dur­ing the fi­nal stages of the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion process and chose to en­gage in pub­lic on matters he doesn’t fully un­der­stand is be­side the point.

For this rea­son, I am not go­ing to en­gage his open let­ter di­rectly, but rather seek to ex­plain the process and re­as­sure those con­cerned by Davis’s ir­re­spon­si­ble ram­blings that there is noth­ing un­to­ward or un­usual about stan­dard­i­s­a­tion. For Davis’s ben­e­fit, Umalusi will pro­vide a work­shop for the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee to help him un­der­stand the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion process.

Umalusi pro­vides a step-by-step ex­pla­na­tion of what stan­dard­i­s­a­tion is about and how it is car­ried out in South Africa and else­where in the world, such as Eng­land.

Stan­dard­i­s­a­tion is the mod­er­a­tion process used to mit­i­gate the ef­fects caused by exam-re­lated fac­tors. This is sep­a­rate from the pupils’ sub­ject knowl­edge, abil­i­ties and ap­ti­tude, which af­fect their per­for­mance.

The stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults is nec­es­sary to take care of any vari­a­tion in the stan­dard of the ques­tion papers, which may oc­cur de­spite care­ful mod­er­a­tion, as well as vari­a­tions in the stan­dard of mark­ing that may oc­cur from year-to-year. Other vari­ables in­clude un­de­tected er­rors and pupils’ in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ques­tions.

Dur­ing the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion process (which also in­volves sta­tis­ti­cal mod­er­a­tion), qual­i­ta­tive in­put from ex­ter­nal moder­a­tors, re­ports by in­ter­nal moder­a­tors and post-ex­am­i­na­tion anal­y­sis re­ports, and the prin­ci­ples of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion are con­sid­ered.

Stan­dard­i­s­a­tion is nec­es­sary to achieve com­pa­ra­bil­ity and con­sis­tency of ex­am­i­na­tion stan­dards over years to mit­i­gate the vari­ables that af­fect pupil per­for­mance from one year to another, for ex­am­ple cog­ni­tive de­mand and the vary­ing dif­fi­culty of ques­tions, mark­ing, cur­ricu­lum changes and in­ter­ven­tions. Stan­dard­i­s­a­tion aims, in the main, to achieve an equiv­a­lent stan­dard of ex­am­i­na­tion over the years, of sub­jects and of as­sess­ment bod­ies, and to de­liver a rel­a­tively con­stant prod­uct to the mar­ket: uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges and em­ploy­ers.

The re­sults are stan­dard­ised across the board to en­sure a prospec­tive em­ployer or uni­ver­sity ad­min­is­tra­tor that an A in one year is the equiv­a­lent to an A at­tained in another year. This is ob­vi­ously a very crude ex­pla­na­tion of a very com­plex process.

The 2016 NSC re­sults re­flect more raw marks than those from 2015. This could be be­cause the ex­am­i­na­tion papers were set more ap­pro­pri­ately and the mod­er­a­tion process of set­ting the papers was im­proved. The ad­just­ments (de­cided by the as­sess­ment stan­dards com­mit­tee of Umalusi) con­sis­tently fol­low guid­ing prin­ci­ples. The com­mit­tee com­prises aca­demics with ex­ten­sive ex­per­tise in sta­tis­ti­cal mod­er­a­tion, sta­tis­tics, as­sess­ment, cur­ricu­lum and ed­u­ca­tion.

Although the fi­nal stages of the process, namely stan­dard­i­s­a­tion, may seem highly sta­tis­ti­cal, this ad­just­ment is the cul­mi­na­tion of a long process of re­ceiv­ing and re­flect­ing on qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive in­puts. This starts with the set­ting of papers, then mod­er­a­tion, writ­ing of ex­ams, mark­ing of ex­ams, ver­i­fi­ca­tion and only fi­nally the ad­just­ment of mark dis­tri­bu­tions.

Some­times they are ad­justed up­wards and some­times they are ad­justed down­wards in in­di­vid­ual sub­jects. The claims of some that it is done in or­der to ma­nip­u­late the re­sults doesn’t make any sense. Each learner would have a dif­fer­ent sub­ject com­bi­na­tion and Umalusi does not work with the over­all re­sults of dif­fer­ent learn­ers but rather the in­di­vid­ual sub­jects in iso­la­tion.

Davis failed to use the op­por­tu­nity ac­corded to him to bet­ter un­der­stand this process and in­stead chose try to dis­credit the re­sults of over 800 000 learn­ers, some of whom worked ex­tremely hard to get the re­sults they did. If in­deed he in­tends to be in­volved in con­struc­tive en­gage­ment, he should ed­u­cate him­self on matters of ed­u­ca­tion. There are many prob­lems in the sys­tem, and we are the first to ad­mit that. We are ad­dress­ing these chal­lenges, in­clud­ing the teach­ing of math­e­mat­ics, pro­vid­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion to those with spe­cial needs and in­fra­struc­ture pro­vi­sion. Davis would find more con­struc­tive use of his en­ergy by work­ing with us to find so­lu­tions to ac­tual prob­lems than try­ing to find prob­lems where there are none.

Well done to the class of 2016. Your hard work paid off and you de­serve the re­sults you re­ceived. You have done us proud. Thank you.

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