Exam papers adjusted upwards

11th July 1997 at 01:00
SOUTH AFRICA. Marks in South Africa's school-leaving examinations, written late last year, were massively adjusted to help disadvantaged pupils, according to a report by the country's provincial examinations services. It allegedly reveals that marks were altered in all nine provinces.

The report, say parliamentary sources, urges provincial departments to tackle resource differences between schools, and to counter the tendency of pupils to attempt subjects in higher grades irrespective of their chances of success.

More upward adjustment appears to have been made to marks in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal than in the Western Cape, while in Northern Province marks were so low that they would have had to be doubled to enable candidates to pass. This was apparently not done.

The confidential report on the 1996 exams (or matric), was handed to the parliamentary education portfolio committee. It complains that problems in disadvantaged schools' lack of facilities, equipment and capable teachers could not be tackled indefinitely by examination standardisation processes.

Although adjustments to matric results were common practice across the former race-based education departments, for the first time last year the method had to take into account huge gaps between the performances of pupils from vastly disparate schools.

However, the standardisation suggested by the South African Certification Council, the report allegedly says, was found to be accurate, was accepted by all nine provinces and was successful.

Upward adjustments were made to marks using the previous year's scores for all of the former departments as a guideline, and results from the previous five years were also considered.

It was decided to fine-tune adjustments moving the distribution of marks but not the rank order of pupils' scores and only to allow adjustments of more than 10 per cent in exceptional cases.

In Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, marks were significantly raised for two-thirds of the matric papers. Marks for most of the papers were increased by more than 9 per cent.

In both provinces, as in all others, education departments tried to help disadvantaged pupils who had not done well, emphasising raising lower marks. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal achieved overall pass rates of just over 60 per cent.

Far too many pupils were taking higher-grade papers in all provinces except the Western and Northern Cape, which consequently had higher overall pass rates: 80.2 per cent and 74.8 per cent respectively.

In most provinces with large numbers of pupils on higher grades, the report allegedly contends, the results were poor. Too many matric pupils are opting for higher-grade subjects for university entry purposes, rather than concentrating on their interests or abilities.

Less upward adjustment was made to marks in the Western Cape, while in the Northern Cape the marks of almost all papers are believed to have been raised.

Higher-grade numbers in Northern Province drastically exceeded standard-grade numbers and marks for almost all papers were raised. Northern Province scored the lowest overall pass rate, with only 38.7 per cent of pupils passing.

Marks for almost all papers in the Free State and Eastern Cape were raised, many by more than 9 per cent. Large numbers of higher-grade pupils resulted in low performance: Free State had a 50.9 per cent pass rate, and the Eastern Cape 48.8 per cent.

In the North West, which had a relatively good 69.7 per cent pass rate, sources said there were upward adjustments to all papers. And in Mpumalanga the marks for almost all papers were increased, and the pass rate was 47.3 per cent. In both provinces, marks were apparently raised by more than 9 per cent.

It is believed that examinations services found it difficult in South Africa to achieve a bell-curve distribution of marks because privileged pupils achieved much better marks than disadvantaged pupils. Adjustments were thus made to marks at the lower and top ends.

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