Matric 2016: Why the secrecy about standardisation?
Instead of playing politics, Motshekga should do all she can to assure public that the process is credible
WRITING in The Star, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga argued that we have no right to question the way in which the matric marks are standardised.
In her view, we must just trust the “doctors and professors” who do the standardisation process.
I may not have a degree in statistics but, as an MP, I have an obligation to scrutinise executive action and ask tough questions.
For her part, Motshekga has a duty to govern transparently and honestly.
The minister’s stonewalling, character assassination and obfuscation is a great pity, as it just fuels the suspicion that there is something untoward about the way the matric marks were standardised.
Indeed, there are very real questions about the standardisation process that remain unanswered. And the veil of secrecy that the education quality council, Umalusi, has placed over standardisation is deeply troubling.
We know that 32 of the 58 matric subjects had their marks adjusted this year during the standardisation process. Of the 32 adjusted subjects, 28 had their marks adjusted upwards and four downwards.
Some of the subjects saw a dramatic upwards adjustment. Mathematical Literacy, for example, was adjusted from a mean (average) raw score of 30.06% to 37.22% – an upwards adjustment of 7.16%.
According to Umalusi, it was justified in raising the raw marks to bring them in line with the historical mean (from 2011 to 2016) which, in the case of mathematical literacy, was 37.2%.
There is nothing wrong with standardisation. Done properly, standardisation is vital to ensure that the standard of the National Senior Certificate is maintained, and that pupils in a particular matric year are not advantaged or disadvantaged relative to other years. Upwards (and downwards) adjustments are therefore warranted if it can be shown that the exams were demonstrably harder (or easier) than previous years.
The problem is that Umalusi refuses to provide evidence that the exams for the 28 subjects that saw an upwards adjustment this year were harder than previous years. Just this week, Umalusi refused to provide us with the external moderators’ reports on each exam. Why the secrecy? What is Umalusi afraid of ?
The need for transparency is heightened this year by concerns that the matric marks were adjusted for reasons not related to the difficulty of the exam papers. To understand this, we need to look at the impact of including “progressed” pupils in the standardisation process.
A progressed pupil is one who has been pushed through to matric despite not meeting the pass requirement for Grade 11, in line with the Department of Basic Education’s progression policy. This is the second year that the policy has been in force.
According to Umalusi, 109 400 progressed learners (13.4% of the total enrolment) wrote the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exam last year, up from 66 088 in 2015.
If there was a significant increase in the number of weaker students (ie progressed pupils) who wrote the NSC last year compared to previous years, it raises the question of whether the inclusion of progressed pupils in the standardisation process led to a drop in standards.
Let us go back to the example of Mathematical Literacy to illustrate.
Last year, according to Umalusi, 389015 pupils wrote maths literacy. We do not know precisely how many of these were progressed pupils, but it is likely that most progressed pupils would have opted for maths literacy instead of the more cognitively demanding mathematics (it is compulsory to do one or the other).
This means that as many as one in four pupils who wrote maths literacy may have been progressed pupils.
Given the increase in weaker (ie progressed) pupils who wrote maths literacy last year, it follows that the drop in the subject’s raw mark (30.06%) from the fiveyear historical mean (37.20%) may not have been due to the increased difficulty of the exams. There is every possibility that the drop in the raw mark was because of an increase in the number of weaker, progressed pupils who wrote the exams.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how adjusting the mean raw score upwards by 7.16% to 37.22% – as Umalusi did – can be justified.
We need to know: Does the inclusion of progressed pupils in the standardisation process create additional impetus to adjust the marks upwards for reasons not related to the difficulty of the papers? And, if so, does this not mean a drop in the standards of a matric pass?
Instead of playing politics, Motshekga should be doing all she can to assure the public that the standardisation process is credible.