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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

Too many perfect scores in CBSE 12th result beg for reforms in assessment system

In CBSE Class 12, one could imagine achieving 100% marks in maths, physics and accountancy. But now even English and history can get you a perfect score.

education Updated: Jul 02, 2017 17:10 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Students celebrating at a school in Gurgaon, Haryana, on Sunday after their CBSE result 2017 was declared.
Students celebrating at a school in Gurgaon, Haryana, on Sunday after their CBSE result 2017 was declared. (PTI)

As another Class 12 batch graduated from CBSE-affiliated schools on Sunday, one cannot blame students if they wished they could score more than 100 out of 100. Because there seems to be no rational means to stay ahead in this absurd race of all-too-perfect scores.

Raksha Gopal, the all-India topper, scored 99.6% in all five subjects and missed a cent percent score by just two marks. She got 99% in history and psychology but 100 on 100 in the other three subjects, including English.

The results come just five days after the Board’s attempts to stop moderation of marks, in order to bring some sanity in exam scores, was shot down by the Delhi High Court.

Since high marks in school-leaving exam inevitably lead to higher cutoffs to get into Delhi University, too many top-scoring students will continue to compete for a few good options for undergraduate courses. For the most popular courses in best colleges, the qualifying score has consistently stayed above 95% and the seats fill up fast.

In 2011, Shri Ram College of Commerce was the first to ask for 100% in a certain four-subject combination for admission to B.Com (Hons), triggering mass outrage and inspiring a series of Rajnikant one-liners. But the jokes fell flat when at least two students made the cut.

This mad race to get cent percent marks has reached a stage where nobody is really sure how good is good enough. To reverse this trend, the CBSE, along with other state boards, had in April this year decided to drop the policy of moderation, a practice where students were given extra marks in subjects regarded as unusually difficult, or when there were variations in question paper sets. The board had also found that such marks were given in excess, leading to a spike in the overall scores and sending cutoffs for college admissions through the roof.

Last week, the Delhi High Court directed the CBSE to exercise moderation. Even if the board challenges this decision in Supreme Court — it has not yet — the anomaly of inflated marks cannot be set right unless the CBSE reviews its own evaluation process.

Three years ago, my colleague Neha Pushkarna analysed CBSE results to find that while the number of students appearing for Class 12 Board exams across the nation went up by 64% between 2009 and 2014, the number of those scoring 95% or more jumped by 780%. Interestingly, marks above 95% are not moderated by the CBSE.

It is not that the schoolchildren got smarter over the years. A data-based digital interactive released by HT on Saturday shows that a student scoring 88% in Class 12 boards in 2015 would have scored 78% a decade earlier.

We can’t blame the practice of moderation alone for inflated scores. In 2004-05, as a de-stressing measure, CBSE had shifted its policy from testing what a student does not know to what she actually knows. Long-answer-type questions were reduced in favour of objective-type questions. Each answer had to have certain points and keywords that were given out to teachers marking the papers. A student who got all of them right would score full marks, even for long essay-type questions, Pushkarna reported.

One could imagine 100% marks in maths, physics and accountancy. But now even English and history can get you a perfect score.

Some would argue that identifying keys to each answer is a good way of evaluation because it minimises the scope for subjectivity and brings uniformity in marking. After all, CBSE has over 18,000 schools affiliated to it across India and more on than a million students appear for Class 12 boards every year. But then, conducting exams whose results decide the future of so many students has to be more than an administrative or logistical exercise.

Such inflated marks create a false sense of academic excellence among students. It also fuels an unsustainable rat race. Often, DU is accused of being competitive and turning away students when it is merely reacting to the prevalent marks-market dynamics.

Till the early 2000s, as the HT interactive shows, 80% in the best of four could get you a seat in a top on-campus college. With the same marks now, a student would be lucky to get one anywhere at all.

Ending the practice of moderation could be a good start in making the CBSE marking pattern more realistic. But true reform will not be possible unless the assessment system itself is overhauled. The Board results will still throw up exceptional results. But at least it will be less crowded at the top.

First Published: May 29, 2017 11:49 IST

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