Promoted pupils had no big effect on matric rates

17 January 2016 - 02:00 By Mafu Rakometsi

The dip in South Africa's matric pass rate was clearly caused by extra "promoted" pupils and would have been even more significant had it not been for manipulation of the marks. So says Dr Nic Spaull in "Matric cracks starting to show" (January 10), as he posits that the "promotion policy has inadvertently caused a huge crack in the matric standardisation process".It must be pointed out that one of the responsibilities of Umalusi, as South Africa's quality council for general and further education and training in terms of the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act, is to ensure that assessments and exams of the qualifications it is responsible for are of the appropriate standard and quality. Umalusi is tasked with, among other duties, adjusting marks during the standardisation process.story_article_left1Standardisation is carried out by a committee of council made up of academics with expertise in assessment, statistics, mathematics, and curriculum. The standardisation process is used to mitigate the effect of factors other than the pupils' knowledge and aptitude on their performance. This is an international practice.Standardisation is a comparison between the mark distributions of the current exam and the corresponding average distributions of a number of past years.If there are significant differences, the reasons for those differences should be established. One of the principles that guides the standardisation process is that no adjustment may exceed 10% of the historical average.Umalusi standardises the raw mark, or exam mark. The final promotion mark also includes the school-based assessment.In 2015, a total of 674232 full-time and 127456 part-time candidates were enrolled for the National Senior Certificate exams. Of these totals, more than 66088, or about 10%, were progressed pupils.During the standardisation meeting of the 2015 marks, a report on the performance of progressed pupils in the individual subjects showed that:• The number of progressed pupils in subjects varied from 2.1% to 11.7%; and• The impact of progressed pupilson the failure rate within the subjects varied from 1% to 4%.For example, English first additional language had a total enrolment of 542887 candidates, which consisted of 11% of progressed pupils. The pass rate on raw marks including the progressed pupils is 93%, while the pass rate excluding the progressed pupils is 95%. For mathematical literacy, total enrolment was 388572 with 11% of progressed pupils. The pass rate on raw marks is at 38% and 41% excluding progressed pupils. The impact of progressed pupilson the individual subjects was minimal.story_article_right2As a result, there was no basis to standardise the results of the progressed pupils separately.What we call progressed pupils is actually only the known ones. The argument that there were more is an assumption. Umalusi can only work on the information before it, not on assumptions and extrapolations.A total of 59 subjects were standardised. Of these, 30 were adjusted.Mathematics and physical science were at 36.5% and 45.2%; after the upward adjustment of the exam marks, they are at 43.4% and 50.4% respectively. For mathematical literacy, the raw pass rate before adjustment was 38.2%. The adjusted exam mark is 65.3%.It is instructive to note that, in compliance with Umalusi standardisation principles, for mathematical literacy a maximum adjustment of 10% was applied because the paper turned out to be more difficult in 2015 compared to the previous years.As a result of this maximum adjustment, 27% of pupils who scored between 20% and 29% obtained a pass. This translated into 65.3% of pupils qualifying for a pass. It is also noteworthy that this adjusted pass rate is the lowest, with the past five years being around 78% to 80%.By all accounts, Umalusi did not manipulate the marks and there are no cracks in the 2015 matric standardisation process.Dr Rakometsi is the CEO of Umalusi

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