Ma­tric 2016: Why the se­crecy about stan­dard­i­s­a­tion?

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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