Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) Calcutta experts had cautioned against comparing class XII exam performances across different Boards for admissions to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other engineering schools – but their concerns were ignored.
The ISI experts, asked by the human resource development (HRD) ministry panel that devised the government’s admissions reform plan, concluded that scores of students across different schools Boards could not be compared.
Told then by the government panel headed by science secretary T Ramasami to simply tell them the best way to compare scores across Boards, the experts -- Probal Chaudhari and Debasis Sengupta -- submitted revised recommendations, the ISI professors told HT. But these recommendations – for a broader study -- were also ignored, documents accessed by HT show.
The government and the IIT Council – the apex decision-making body of the IITs – have consistently maintained in public that the ISI experts had approved their plan to compare scores across different Boards. Asked today about the experts’ recommendations that the government ignored, Ramasami, currently in Germany, argued that the suggestions were not binding."We are very clear that what we have done is fine," Ramasami said. "We don’t have to accept what the experts recommended. What they say doesn’t become law."
Over 10 lakh students appear for engineering entrance tests each year. The latest admission criteria require students to score among the top 20 percentile in their Board to be eligible for IIT admissions. This eligibility criterion is based on the assumption that students in the top 20 percentile in each board are comparable. Board percentile scores will receive 50 percent weightage in selections to the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and other schools that join the HRD ministry’s common engineering test from 2013.
The experts were provided class XII scores from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education and the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu boards. Based on a statistical analysis, they concluded a “lack of comparability of scores from different boards in India” for individual subjects, and so for aggregate scores.
“We were then told very clearly that we were not to worry about whether scores could be compared, but to only provide the best way to compare them,” Sengupta said.
The experts’ revised report , submitted in November 2011, suggested percentile ranks as the best way to compare scores across boards. But they recommended that their analysis be carried out for all of India’s 29 school boards, over a longer period of time before using board scores.
“The above analysis regarding stability of board scores should be carried out for all boards over a longer period of time,” the report recommends.
No such detailed study has been conducted. “What we did was a very elementary analysis of a way of normalizing scores across boards,” Chaudhari told HT.
Sengupta said he would not like to comment on the government’s decision to go ahead with using board scores in screening and selecting students to the IITs and other engineering schools. “That’s their prerogative.”
As a method to best compare scores across boards, Sengupta and Chaudhari said that they did not expect the findings in their November 2011 report to vary for boards other than the ones they studied. “My hunch is that results are not going to be very different,” Sengupta said.
“But if you look at all boards, you get greater confidence.”
At present, students require to score 60 percent or more in their board examinations to become eligible for IIT admissions. They then need to clear the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and are ranked based on their performance in this test. The NITs and other central government engineering schools admit students based on the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE). State government colleges need to admit 50 percent students based on AIEEE scores, and use their own admission tests for remaining seats. Private engineering schools admit students based on their own admission tests.
This multiplicity of entrance tests forces students to travel across the country and appear for several examinations – a scourge HRD minister Kapil Sibal wanted to end through one national examination. The absence of any significant relevance of board scores in IIT admissions has also, over the past few years, pushed students away from school studies towards focused coaching for entrance examinations. By incorporating board scores in IIT selections, Sibal wanted to ensure that scool studies could no longer be ignored.
The HRD minister set up a committee under IIT Kharagpur Director Damodar Acharya to evolve an entrance mechanism that would replace multiple tests and make students focus on school studies. But the Acharya panel’s report – which did not specify a detailed roadmap for the reforms – met with resistance.
Sibal then set up a committee under science secretary Ramasami, which consulted faculty across the IITs and prospective students, and asked the ISI experts to vet a proposal to use board scores apart from a two-tier test for selection to the IITs.
Under Ramasami’s proposal, board percentile scores would receive 40 percent weightage, a mains test conducted by the CBSE would receive 30 percent weightage and an advanced test conducted by the IITs themselves would count for the remaining marks.
But faculty members across several IITs protested the plan to give any weightage to board scores in the final selection of students to the premier engineering schools. The senates of IIT Kanpur and IIT Delhi even resolved to boycott Sibal’s plan and instead hold their own entrance test for undergraduate admissions in 2013.
Nudged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the government and the IIT faculty reached a compromise under which board percentile scores will only be used to screen the top 20 per cent students from each board, who will then be eligible for admissions to the IITs if they clear the advanced test.