Umalusi defends matric mark adjustments

None of the marks for the 11 adjusted matric subjects were changed by more than 5%, Umalusi, the state’s quality watchdog body announced on Monday.

This follows the announcement last Wednesday of the 70.2% 2011 matric pass rate, up from 67.8% in 2010.

Out of 56 subjects written by the 2011 matric cohort, the raw scores of 45 were accepted. Of those that were adjusted eight were taken down, while three were taken up.

This standardisation process aims to “mitigate the impact on learners’ performance caused by factors other than their own subject knowledge, aptitude and abilities and to ensure consistency of marks across the years,” said Umalusi’s chairperson, Professor Sizwe Mabizela.

“We need to satisfy ourselves that the exam papers are set at the appropriate level and that marking is of good quality.”

He said although exam papers undergo rigorous moderation before the exam, mistakes do still creep in and it is difficult to judge the quality of the questions.

All adjusted exams were scored out of a mark of 300.
Below is a list of the maximum marks each subject was adjusted by.

  • Life Science—up by 10 marks

  • Agricultural science—down by 12 marks

  • Agricultural management practices—down by 15 marks

  • Electrical technology—down by 15 marks

  • Accounting—up by 5 marks

  • Business studies—down by 15 marks

  • Economics—up by 12 marks

  • History—down by 10 marks

  • English FAL—down by four marks

  • Zulu HL—down by six marks

  • Tshivenda HL—down by a maximum of six marks

After the exams are written, teams of researchers then perform “a comparative analysis of the current and previous years’ papers for each subject to decide if they were too easy or too hard”, Mabizela said.

This research is then compared to the actual results to decide which subject marks need to be adjusted and by how much.

Meetings are then held between the department of basic education and Umalusi in which the department presents its own proposals regarding raw mark moderation.

“Usually we agree on the adjustments but if we disagree Umalusi has the final say,” Mabizela said. “We have never been forced to make a change we didn’t agree with.”

In 2010 the results of 19 subjects were adjusted.

Low adjustments
Lynn Bowie, a lecturer in mathematics education at the University of the Witwatersrand, said it is a good sign that the raw marks for most subjects in the 2011 exams had been accepted and that any adjustments were low ones.

“This suggests that the exams are being set at or close to the expected level and that the examination system is operating appropriately.”

Mabizela attributes the decrease in adjustments to the “settling down of the curriculum”.

“The system is stabilising. Teachers are getting used to the curriculum so they can prepare their learners better and examiners can set more appropriate papers.”

Last year the standardisation process drew more attention than usual due to the unexpected 7.1% increase in the 2010 pass rate of 67.8%—up from 60.7% in 2009.

Only after much pressure by the media and civic organisations did Umalusi reveal more details about this controversial process. Wild inconsistencies in the levels of difficulty across exam papers in the nine African languages offered as home-language subjects came to light.

Umalusi also said that all standardisation decisions would be made public.

Mabizela maintains that it is a misconception that the standardisation process is “just fiddling” with marks.

“Raw marks are still not unproblematic… this standardisation process is done the world over. We continue to work towards the ideal situation of accepting all raw marks as a reflection of what learners are capable of,” he said.

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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