Gavin Davis, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Basic Education, has written an open letter to Umalusi, asking the body why certain matric 2016 results were adjusted by it and the Department of Basic Education.
In the letter, Davis references information disclosed during a recent “standardisation meeting” with Umalusi and the department which shows that 32 subjects had their marks adjusted – compared to 29 in 2015.
“Of the 32 adjusted subjects, 28 had their marks adjusted upwards,” said Davis.
“Some of the subjects saw a dramatic upwards adjustment. The following six subjects saw the biggest upward adjustment from the raw mark.”
|Subject||Candidates||Raw mark rejected (mean)||Adjusted mark accepted (mean)||Adjustment||Historical mean (2011-16)|
Davis said upward mark adjustments normally take place when “the exam paper was demonstrably more difficult than previous years”.
“No evidence has been put forward to demonstrate that these papers were of a higher standard,” he said.
“At the standardisation meeting, the starting point for adjusting the marks was not the papers, but the results.”
“In cases when the raw mark was worse than last year’s, the DBE went back to the paper and found difficult questions to explain the drop in the raw mark. The DBE then motivated for the raw mark to be adjusted upwards accordingly.”
Davis said this method was incorrect, as the difficulty of the paper should be assessed independently of the results.
“The problem of using the raw marks as an indicator of a paper’s cognitive demand is that there may be cases in which the paper was of the appropriate standard, but the learners were below the standard of previous years.”
Not adjusting high marks downwards
In cases were subject marks were higher than previous years, Davis said the department and Umalusi did not go back to the exam papers to see if they were easier than previous years.
“There was little interrogation of why the raw mark was better than last year’s and whether this could have been because the paper was too easy.”
“Instead of adjusting the marks downwards, the good raw mark was accepted as a welcome sign that the system is improving,” he said.
In physical science, for example, the raw mark (mean) was 35.48.
“The computer recommended a score of 34.45 to bring the final mark in line with the historical mean of 34.47. However, Umalusi and DBE rejected this computer adjustment.”
Davis also noted that 109,400 learners (13.4% of the total enrolment) who wrote the matric exams were progressed learners.
“There was a significant increase in the number of weaker students who wrote the NSC this year. This raises the question of whether the inclusion of progressed learners in the standardisation process leads to certain anomalies,” he said.
These weakers learners are likely to skew the data if their marks are taken into account when assessing the difficulty of a paper, said Davis.