What is the so-called ‘marks moderation’ that school boards have decided to discontinue?
‘Moderation’ is a practice adopted by most school education boards to bring uniformity in the evaluation process. Marks scored by students in Class X and XII are tweaked to align the marking standards of different examiners, to maintain parity in the pass percentage across years, to compensate for difficulties students may face in answering a question in the specified time, and to make up for the differences in the difficulty levels of different sets of question papers in the same subject. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) started moderation in 1992, after it introduced multiple sets of question papers.
Why have the boards decided to scrap this policy, then?
While moderation of marks ensures no student is at a disadvantage because of, say, an unreasonably strict examiner or a difficult question paper, over the past few years, the practice has been misused to artificially spike board marks. The misuse was first highlighted in 2013 by two bloggers, Debarghya Das and Prashant Bhattacharji, who mined board results of ICSE and CBSE respectively. Bhattacharji plotted the 2013 results on a graph that showed a sudden spike in the number of students scoring 95%. Das was able to demonstrate an oddly anomalous distribution of marks — for instance, not a single ICSE student that year had scored 81, 82, 84, 85, 87, 89, 91 or 92 in any subject.
Recently, CBSE analysed the Class XII results of all state boards for 2014, 2015 and 2016, and found that most states were not implementing the moderation policy correctly. Instead of a normal distribution or a ‘bell curve’, most state board graphs showed an abnormally large number students scoring 90% or higher.
This trend has resulted in the country’s best universities setting an impossibly high eligibility bar for applicants. For the last few years, Delhi University has seen 100% cut-offs in several subjects. Artificial spiking of marks also tends sometimes to mislead impressionable young people about their own capabilities, and pushes them into opting for a course or programme for which they might not have the aptitude. It was for all these reasons that the Centre urged school boards to scrap moderation — and they agreed.
Since when has the artificial spiking of marks been going on?
It is difficult to say exactly when it started in each state, but the Ministry of Human Resource Development suspects the problem became acute after 2014 — the year the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and other centrally-funded technical institutes started to give weightage to board scores while calculating all-India ranks of students in JEE (Main). Barring a few boards from the Northeastern states, almost all boards recorded an increase in the average marks scored by their students between 2014 and 2016. It was suspected that Boards were spiking marks to give their students a competitive edge in securing admission to prestigious institutions.
What steps will CBSE and school boards now take to roll the system back?
The CBSE, ICSE, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and all state Boards have agreed to implement a roadmap proposed by the union government on April 24. Apart from discontinuing marks moderation, the Boards have agreed to grade a students’ performance in extracurricular activities separately from her academic performance. Some boards currently follow the practice of adding marks obtained in, say, physical education to the overall academic performance, which the Centre suspects is one of the ways to artificially improve Board results.
To aid the process of bringing greater uniformity across states, all 32 Boards have agreed to adopt the NCERT curriculum for subjects such as science and mathematics. CBSE has offered to share its question papers with state Boards so they can set questions along similar lines.
The Centre has set up a working group headed by the CBSE chairman, and comprising members from the ICSE and states of Gujarat, J&K, Karnataka, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Manipur to resolve teething issues that may emerge out of implementation of the decisions taken on April 24.
And what is the system of awarding ‘grace marks’?
Although many school Boards use the terms ‘moderation’ and ‘grace marks’ interchangeably, the latter is broadly understood to be marks awarded to students to improve the pass percentage of a school education Board. While Boards have agreed to scrap moderation, grace marks will continue. However, the Centre has urged all boards to publish their grace marks policy on the official web site, and to disclose the grace marks awarded to a candidate in her marksheet.
What is the likely impact of these decisions on the Class XII results this year?
The meeting on April 24 agreed that the high marks that students get to flaunt on their marksheets now aren’t what they actually score in the exam. Which suggests that, if implemented in letter and spirit, the decision will lead to Board results, especially CBSE results, coming out comparatively poorly for the first time in many years. The numbers of 90- and 95 percenters are expected to fall.
What reactions has the move drawn?
Many feel that there is no way the Centre can tell if state Boards have actually honoured their commitment to not inflate results — which could put CBSE students, whose marks will definitely not be moderated, at a disadvantage during the admission season. Also, there is fear that Boards may now set very easy question papers, so that a large number of students can score high marks. There is a view that the intent of the moderation exercise was good — and the Centre should ideally have urged states to follow it in a scientific and transparent manner, rather than scrapping it altogether. Reporting absolute scores may put students of state Boards with strict evaluation standards at a disadvantage while seeking admission in, say, Delhi University.
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