Are the marks of college-admission hopefuls who take their Class 12 examination under different education boards comparable?
Is a 95% score in the exams held by bodies such as the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) and the state boards the same? Are contenders with 90%, 100% or whatever percentage of marks from different examination boards competing on a level-playing field where entry to college is solely on the basis of these crucial numbers?
Gerry Arathoon, additional secretary and officiating chief executive and secretary, CISCE, says the marks are equivalent. According to him, the students with the same score from various boards are on a level-playing field.
Rita Wilson, former deputy secretary, CISCE, points out that the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) recognises the various boards and their exams as at par. “Therefore, the scores have to be at par.” Though Wilson says full marks should be used in evaluation, she wonders how come so many students are scoring 95% and even higher. “It's for the AIU to decide” on marks parity, she says, adding that the different systems first need to be looked into before making a comment.
However, Ashok Ganguly and Vineet Joshi, former and current chairmen, respectively, of the CBSE, say that marks obtained under the Central board such as theirs and the ICS and the state boards may not be comparable. “The typology of questions, the assessment systems are different (in various boards). When there’s no parity in the typology of questions, the blueprint of question papers and the assessment systems, the marks cannot be at par,” says Ganguly, who also says that scores awarded by Central boards may be equivalent.
In a similar vein, Joshi says, “There are different assessment schemes. The question papers are different.” As each board has its own criteria and different papers, “there need not be any consistency”, says Anita Rampal, head and dean, faculty of education, Delhi University. So, the same marks from different boards do not necessarily mean the same thing, she says.
S Srinivasa Rao, associate professor of education at JNU, general secretary of Comparative Education Society of India and currently visiting scholar at the University of Toronto, agrees there have always been “imbalances” in the syllabi and the exam results of CBSE and the state boards. “That’s why today we have entrance exams everywhere. It’s surprising why DU has not resorted to this practice of entrance exams yet. Institutions and administrators regard entrance exam as a level-playing field and an easy option to make it a level-playing field.”
According to Rao, percentage-based admission will help some applicants like those from state boards where the marks are generously “doled out”. “The CBSE, though inflated in recent years, continues to provide some conservatism in marking,” he adds.
Though Rampal says that marks earned in a school-leaving exam (which has a different objective) should not be used for the purpose of selection at the university, she adds that in the absence of a test, DU’s Class 12 marks-based admission process is “one” practical mechanism.
While some experts do advocate an admission test as a solution, they also point to the challenges in designing and administering associated with the existing ones. One of the most critical things is how it’s designed.
Rampal recommends introducing a university assessment test of understanding (overall understanding of say, science or social science), analytical skills, critical thinking, reasoning etc. Delhi University admissions are a very different case primarily due to the sheer number of candidates vying for seats.
Next, some worry about the focus shifting from school-leaving exams to entrance tests and private coaching classes to prepare for these. Wilson says, “Due importance should be given to school-leaving exams.”
Based on interactions with various experts, it follows that there’s no magic wand, no one perfect solution. However, both Ganguly and Joshi talk about the need for some intervention as far as the marks are concerned. “There’s a need to rationalise the marks across the boards to give equal opportunity to all,” says Joshi, who is also president, Council of Boards of School Education in India. Ganguly says there may be a need for “normalisation” of marks given by state boards.