Matric markers’ quality satisfactory without competency tests

The much-debated competency tests for markers of matric final papers were not a guarantee of quality marking, according to Mafu Rakometsi, chief executive of Umalusi, South Africa’s Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training.

As the 2014 National Senior Certificate examinations draw closer, the body seemingly wasn’t concerned about the quality of teachers appointed to mark public school scripts. 

“I can attest to the fact that we’re satisfied as Umalusi with the quality of markers that have been appointed,” Rakometsi told journalists in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

He declared Umalusi and the assessment bodies – the department of basic education, the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) and the provisionally accredited South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute – ready to run successful, irregularity-free exams. 

“Whilst it is true that not all assessment bodies are running competency tests, competency is not only guaranteed through competency tests. You just have to ensure first of all that the people appointed have necessary qualifications, are teaching in grade 12, and that they are producing good results,” said Rakometsi. 

Continuing debate
Over 41 500 public school teachers have been appointed as markers this year, an increase from 35 000 in 2013. 

Exactly 551 656 matrics have registered as full-time candidates for the 2014 examinations, and 135 259 are part-time candidates. The assessments will be written at 8 110 examination centres across the country. 

The IEB has registered 9 981 full-time candidates and 519 part-time candidates in 207 examination centres.

The debate on whether Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should introduce competency tests for teachers wanting to mark grade 12 final scripts has raged for several years. 

The largest proponent for competency tests, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has introduced competency testing in the Western Cape – the only province it governs. 

Motshekga has appeared to favour the assessments. Responding to the DA’s written questions in Parliament in August 2013, she said she was yet to approve policy for competency testing because “the major teacher union has opposed the administration of the competency test”. She needed “further consultation” with the union.  

But the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, the largest teacher union in the country, remains opposed to the suggestions of assessing teachers for marking matric final scripts. 

Provincial prerogative
Rakometsi said Umalusi was satisfied with the processes followed to ensure quality marking. “If a province wants to run competency tests it’s up to them. If they want to employ other mechanisms to ensure, so be it.” 

“We just have to be satisfied that the end product we’re getting is quality in terms of the competency of markers.”

“It is worth noting that the marking process does not end at the level of the assessment bodies, Umalusi subjects all submitted scripts to further rigorous quality assurance processes to ensure that marking was conducted fairly and consistently both nationally and across the assessment bodies.”

Marking was no easy exercise, said Rakometsi. “[It] is very laborious because you have to concentrate, and true the people marking are overworked. That is why in some instances there’d be mistakes that come out [of] lapses in concentration. Marking is hard work.”

With the new national Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (Caps) programme being tested on for the first time this year, Rakometsi predicted an “increase in the amount of work to be covered” by markers and pupils, especially in mathematics. 

The expansion of content in the algebra and geometry curriculum “means that the mathematics in Caps is likely to be significantly more demanding than the National Curriculum Statement in previous years”. 

Serious irregularities 
While Umalusi was confident all was in place for successful exams across the provinces, it wants the basic education department to “intensify” monitoring in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. 

Rakometsi told the Mail & Guardian serious irregularities were uncovered at part-time centres KwaZulu-Natal last year. Scripts indicated “invigilators might have dictated answers to candidates”. 

“What is worrying for us in this instance is that some of the centres that are for part-time students are also for full-time candidates. So, we’ve spoken to the province, we’ve spoken to the national department as well, to say stringent measures must be put in place to ensure that we don’t have a recurrence of what happened.” 

Limpopo and the Eastern Cape remained a risk because they are emerging from recent administration. “Once a province is under administration the approvals for whatever expenditure take long.”

“The provinces [were] under administration because also there [was a] shortage of money, and where there’s a shortage of money there will definitely be challenges in terms of staff deployment, getting the required equipment, in terms of the monitoring of the examinations. That is why as Umalusi we’re going to intensify our monitoring in those provinces.” 

Umalusi go into this examination period “aware that there is still a long way to go, and that deep inequality still characterises much of our education system. We have a system that is host to some of the best schools in the world, but simultaneously contains schools that face deep challenges in terms of even basic resources.” 

“As we prepare to draw a curtain on the current academic year, we do so knowing fully well that no challenge, no matter how big, is insurmountable.”

The exams officially begin at the end of October. “As we usher the class of 2014 into adulthood, we wish them nothing but success in their examinations and in their future careers,” Rakometsi said.

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