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The GCSE system is moving from an old system of letter grades (A* - G, A* being the best) to numeric grades (1 to 9, 9 being the best).
How GCSEs are marked, in general
1. Each exam board has a team of trained examiners led by a senior examiner. Units are marked by teachers and then the scores go through a process of marks moderation which involves slight upscaling or downscaling of marks to account for inter-examiner variability.Some adjustments are made to the awarded marks.
2. Raw marks undergo a statistical transformation to the Uniform Mark Scheme (UMS). The uniform marks for each component are added to come up with a final grade for the qualification.
Grade boundaries in terms of he Uniform Marks are fixed. For example: an A grade occurs at 80%, B occurs at 70% and so on.
3. Grade boundaries are fixed by analyzing various academic and statistical characteristics, reports, archived exam papers from previous years.
4. Inspection of exam papers. Some examiners go through the work of students and decide if the students deserve a higher/lower grade.
5. Judgements are collated. The work of different examiners is compiled. There's a collated sheet with ticks and crosses indicating whether they think that students deserve higher or lower grades.
6. Upper and lower marking limits are decided. The chair assesses the collated judgements to find the upper and lower limiting marks.
7. Grade boundaries are set. The chair of examiners decides the exact position for the grade boundary. They do this after careful consideration and discussion
Here's a sample of a how old format GCSE grades were, for a school. The percentage of students scoring between A* and C is what used to be considered vital, in many forms of school league tables.
Academic performance in GCSE Key Stage 4 examinations. Percentage of students scoring A and A* grades in major subjects
The New GCSE Grading versus the Old grading
The old pattern awarded gradea A* (Exceptional) followed by grade A to G.
The new GCSE grading scheme awards grade 1 to 9, with 9 being the best. The old A* grade has been split into two layers, 8 and 9.
That makes it harder to attain the highest grade (9) which is now meant for genuinely exceptional outliers. Grade 4 will correspond to the old grade C.
The first new exams for GCSE English and Mathematics will be in summer 2017. The new GCSE Science exams will start in summer 2018.
Coursework and practical assessments play a smaller part in the new GCSEs. So the exam performance, matters a lot more.
As per news reports, the era of score inflation is coming to an end, and exam boards like CBSE, ISC and state boards will report scores as they are.
I use "moderation" in quotes because that is not what was happening.
The real problem was not the presence of a moderation process, but how it was being done.
Some kind of upscaling or downscaling of marks is required to compensate for any incorrect or vague question, year-to-year variations in difficulty and inter-examiner variations in the degree of strictness of evaluation. This is done by international exam boards, to maintain the repeatability and reliability of the exam scores. If a score of 85% in Chemistry in 2014 means "okay" and the same score in 2017 means "excellent" then something is terribly wrong with the evaluation system.
Also, CBSE in particular, uses multiple sets of question papers to clamp down on issues arising out of cheating or paper leakage. This requires that scores of candidates across different sets, need some kind of statistical adjustment to account for any major or minor differences in difficulty levels. Plain raw marks in a board exam are meaningless and need to be fitted to a well defined curve, for people to be able to interpret them properly.
How the "moderation" was being done
There was no real moderation. Shockingly arbitrary and large dole outs of extra marks were made, to make sure that people didn't complain about their evaluation - and for each board to game the system and push kids into good colleges. This became a cat and mouse game with all the boards entering a dangerous grade inflation spiral.
And the extra marks were doled out in a manner which significantly disturbed the relative ordering of scores.
Take the case of CBSE. Scores above 95 were left unchanged. The rest were given extra marks: but not allowed to exceed 95 after the inclusion of extra marks.
So people who scored (originally) 95, 85, 80 in Mathematics in 2016: All of them got a 95 in their marksheet!
Also, closer scrutiny of CBSE Math histograms suggest, that for cases where the final score was below 95, the scores have a weird uniform kind of distribution which can never occur in a board exam.
This means that some kids might have been given even 20 marks more. We don't know.
If you look at the ISC graphs over here there are large missing gaps. Again, they have massively inflated scores, looking at the gaps before the pass marks. And the gaps imply distortion of relative standings.
Removing the arbitrary addition of marks is a welcome move, but boards do need to have well-defined moderation processes.
We also need statisticians and academics to come up with a SAT like common third party test, using which the scores of different boards can be interpreted. As things stand, 80% of Tamil Nadu cannot be compared with 80% of CBSE. But if we know or confirm that TN performs worse than CBSE in a common third party test (or vice-versa), we can interpret scores accordingly by anchoring the curves.
The "Idea of India" has been leading to a national obsession with finding disparate groups, disadvantaged in some way - and trying to solve problems specifically for those groups, letting the mess spillover into other areas. The latest in this series is the introduction of a quota for girls at IIT. I do think that given no other action, some effort to give representation to 50% of the population, is better than no effort at all. But I also think that this is a terrible fix because it literally flies in the face of gender equality if you really think about it. Sounds contradictory, I know.
The real fix which I have been warning about for ages, is a necessary but minor academic redesign of the IIT JEE.
Had this been the exam for a private university like Ashoka, it'd be entirely their prerogative, but since this is a publicly funded institute, certain expectations need to be met.
Let's get some things straight first.
Coaching by itself is not a problem. In fact it is a boon.
It is an example of how an unregulated economic partition can thrive and create capacity, when our highly regulated school system has collapsed.
If anything, access to coaching actually made education available at scale, and as a commodity, which might sound repulsive, but it is most certainly better than almost no education at all. In the absence of a respectable schooling system, coaching made education accessible at scale. This was of special value to people who couldn't go to good schools, simply because there aren't enough of them.
Kota and Hyderabad opened up the gates of respectable higher education to those who could not attend schools like DPS or DAV or top ICSE schools.
In 2013 when the JEE started factoring in board examination scores there was a very naive expectation that coaching chains would start teaching English and fifth subjects and register as schools.
Nothing of the sort happened. Why? Because, surprise, surprise, the school regime is one where government interference is heavy and you cannot even make a well deserved profit after all that hard work and hassle. Most of the problems attributed to coaching are a consequence of problematic test design.
Selection biases at work
An exam will be biased towards those who put in extra effort towards it, and there'll also be a bias, where people interested in a particular exam, have a greater likelihood of taking coaching for it.
The ratio of girls to benchmark against
The question is NOT "there are 50% girls in the population" so why isn't that reflected in the IIT JEE selection list.
The real benchmark is, that the percentage of girls topping and scoring over 95% in PCM in the CBSE and ISC examinations, is commendable. A quick look at the list of CBSE toppers for 2015, suggests that the fraction of high scoring girls from the Science stream, is easily over a third, perhaps more. This is the ratio we must benchmark against and ask ourselves why this isn't reflected in the JEE Merit list.
The reason I cite the example of CBSE and ISC is because their syllabus is quite in line with the IIT JEE syllabus, though the questions are far easier. Frankly, the CBSE/ISC level of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics is far closer to the standards required by an engineer than that of the JEE.
That said, the JEE does something critical which board exams seldom accomplish: it forces you to think and it does a good job of identifying Science and Math Olympiad winners. The board exams tend to be un-inspiring, have predictable recall based questions and will be far easier to game if used as the selection criteria.
Also, we need to remember that girls are not the only group biased against. There are natural or unnatural biases depending on the board, gender, region, income group. Admission processes are always biased but we need to try eliminating any stark, unnatural ones. As things stand, the proportion of CBSE/ISC kids qualifying is over ten times that of most state boards; the proportion of students getting in from AP/TS is far more than that of Tamil Nadu or Kerala. Whoever prepares the most for an exam, or goes through better quality schooling, has a greater chance of getting in.
All we should do is to eliminate any unnatural friction, which in the case of the JEE is primarily the secrecy around the exam.
The problematic exam design and a system of secrecy
There is a limited number of seats and there will be a massive tussle for them. You can't stop people from studying 24x7 or taking additional coaching.
But there are specific issues with the IIT JEE which I will address.
Exams are not bad
As of now, India is a poor country and Indians cannot afford the rounded assessment which American and British Universities focus on.
The upside down thing though is, that currently the JEE comes with a huge price tag, which means that the process caters to the relatively rich. Students from CBSE and CISCE have nearly 10 times the success rate of state boards.
Possible Action Items and Issues to be addressed
(a) Complete lack of transparency about the extent and scope of the syllabus
Every coaching center or publication tries to thrive on this information gap by selling overly complex problem sets.
After you take the exam, you realise that you could have done with just one book, but by that time the damage is done. Lots of folk end up joining coaching even if they had the potential to just study on their own. This part is unacceptable because a publicly funded educational institute cannot implicitly force students to pay for a private channel.
There is nothing wrong with the coaching itself, but the unnecessary requirement created for it, much of the time. Who is to say that someone who went to an expensive private school wasn't really unfairly advantaged in the process, after all. The solution to this is simple: IITs should recommend text books.
This does not mean that questions should be repeated verbatim, but that the principles and facts required to handle the exam, are bounded. And that kids don't get taken for a wild goose chase.
(b) Arbitrary gates to publicly funded corridors
Only 32% of the students study pure sciences at the Class 11-12 level and it is unclear what percentage of them opt for PCM. In general, only Mathematics is required for many of the branches.
As things stand, the IIT JEE process is a microcosm of problems which will develop once the new National Testing Service kicks in.
The exam is a Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics exam and the result is interpreted by using a simple summation of the marks in those three papers.
BioTechnology and BioChemical engineering have limited relevance of Physics and very little use of Mathematics. The exam doesn't have Bio at all. This of course can be fixed by just having a BioChemistry section in the Chemistry paper - it already exists in Class 12 syllabus.
Programs in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering don't need Grade 11-12 Chemistry.
Programs in Industrial Engineering and Economics don't need Grade 11-12 Physics or Chemistry.
Architecture does not require either Physics or Chemistry. See what I mean?
Arts, commerce and medical stream students could easily handle a variety of courses which are made inaccessible to them.
The solution will be to interpret the PCM scores differently, and each department can assign a weight to the subject(s) it considers most important.
The current "one nation, one merit list" principle does not make much sense as the desirable attributes for Chemical Engineering could be vastly different from those required for Electrical Engineering.
A basic language and functional English test is perhaps required now. Too many complaints of folk unable to write a single sentence. This itself is an area where girls might have an edge over boys, but the reason for inclusion of English or a language section shouldn't be for the purpose of gender balancing, but for academic reasons alone. All major college entrance tests and standardized examinations, such as the SAT and the GaoKao, do have a language section.
(c) What is wrong in Kota and Hyderabad is not the coaching but the schools
Students register in dummy schools, skip essential classes in language, practical work and the fifth subject.
The JEE was meant to be something in addition to the Class 12 exam, but this bypass is unfair because students in other states have to handle their regular schooling (as they should).
The fix for this does not lie with the IITs, though inclusion of functional language skills in the JEE will help. While it is natural that an entrance exam can only test on a least common denominator in terms of subjects, the school system does have a role in imparting education in the areas of languages, practical work and exposure to specialized electives like BioTechnology or Computer Science or Psychology. As it is, many of our schools offer very few options in terms of subjects. Some don't have a Biology option for the Science stream. Schools in developed countries routinely offer fifteen or more subjects even at the Grade 10 equivalent. Take a look at the subjects offered by this school in England, which is hardly an outlier or an exceptional school. This is a bit of a digression, but this is just to emphasize that coaching cannot offer the sheer breadth in education, which a good school does.
(d) The design of the JEE paper.
In the early 2000s, a score of even 50% was sufficient for a person to rank in the top 100-400 range. The papers were just too long, so even attempting half was considered a safe strategy.
About 35% was sufficient to get in. This just indicates an overly difficult as well as lengthy examination, which was prone to non-academic traits and abilities: like question selection, speed, tricks etc.
Solving a Rubix cube is great training in problem solving, but solving it in 5 minutes? Great training for sure, but ultimately worthless and effort which was perhaps better spent in something more productive or creative.
Some thought needs to be given to the balance between testing for speed, recall and genuine problem solving ability.
What if everyone was given double the time and the rank list saw a slower but better problem solver reach to the top?
This is ultimately an academic issue and it depends on how seriously the IITs would like to address this.
Similarly, there are a lot of esoteric topics particularly in the Chemistry portion of syllabus, unlikely to be present in the board exam syllabus, or ever required in most kinds of engineering.
The exam should value general principles over specifics and such content can go.
The MCQ based format of the question paper also has serious issues despite the fact that it is quick to grade, and the scores are not prone to subjectivity. But that is an entirely academic issue.
(e) Data and statistics please
The IITs are terribly opaque about their data. Who got in? What board, what region? They release some information now, but it is far from what it should be. Something as simple as: what was the class 10 and class 12 board of the entrants. Parents and students could plan accordingly.
Also, some tracking of how different demographics and ranks perform once inside the IIT system. If data shows that girls with 40% in the entrance exam perform as well as boys with 50% in the entrance test, there is perhaps a valid case to have an extraordinary bump-up for them. A recent study shared on Social Media suggested that girls have an average GPA exceeding that of boys, by one entire grade point, on a scale of ten. An official analysis of that kind of data could definitely make a more objective case for increasing the percentage of girls.
Studies from MIT and CMU suggest that the undergrad performance of girls with 700 in SAT Mathematics is similar as that of boys with 730 in SAT Mathematics. All I suggest is, that statistics of past instances of the JEE be properly dissected, to come up with fair policies, rather than quick and arbitrary fixes like quotas.
Once the points (a), (b) and (e) are addressed, some of the current unwanted biases will disappear. Remember: everyone is from different state boards, and the out-of-sync structure is a serious issue.
(c) - Not much can be done on this front and (d) is entirely dependent on whether the IITs wants to give consideration to a balance of attributes there.
My guess is, that with (a), (b) and (c) you will see some improved representations across not just gender but also boards, income groups and geographical location. At that point, the exam will turn into something which doesn't coerce people into the coaching centres simply to help them demystify the syllabus. Once the syllabus and academic requirements for the IIT JEE exam are transparently known to all, kids will be able to study efficiently and confidently even at home. Such kids will also have a shot, even if their chances could be improved with coaching. Right now such kids do not stand a chance at all.
Till then, we will have permanent make-shift arrangements like quotas.
ICSE, ISC, CBSE Schools for Indians in Dubai, Sharjah (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Middle Eastern countries
There is a large population of Indians in Dubai, Sharjah (both in UAE) as well as Saudi Arabia. Choosing a school is a critical issue. This post is for those who prefer to put their kids into schools aligned with the Indian system.
Saudi Arabia does have CBSE schools. You may find them in this list. Do check the CBSE website for more. CBSE also has schools in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Nepal, Singapore, Qatar, Oman, Nepal, Bangladesh etc. Many of those schools have excellent academic standards as is reflected in this CBSE 2016 performance tabulation. GEMS and JSS are well regarded groups running CISCE and CBSE schools in Dubai.
Here is the performance of some of the CBSE schools in Dubai in the class 12 examinations of 2016.
Here is the performance of some of the CBSE schools in Sharjah in the class 12 examinations of 2016.
The Council for the Indian School Certificate examinations has a few affiliated schools in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Dubai and Sharjah. In 2012, the Class 12 ISC Topper was from Dubai Modern Academy (GEMS) after which he headed to Stanford.
Both the CBSE and the ISC are well respected systems, though if you're in a transferable job, the sheer scale of the CBSE system and their large network of schools, makes it easier to find a school in another country, or on your return back to India. The CISCE has just a few schools outside the country and a much smaller number of schools than CBSE, within India itself. However, in most large cities, other than Delhi, the CISCE schools typically dominate the lists of best or preferred schools. This holds true in Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata and even to some extent, Hyderabad and Chennai. Same for Lucknow and Dehradun.
At the grade 11-12 level, the syllabus of both boards is well aligned with that of competitive examinations in India. However, till Class 10, the ICSE system is considered more rigorous, has significantly more focus on practical and project work, and the English curriculum is far better than that of the CBSE. The ICSE system is often a good mid-point between the usual Indian system (CBSE) and the hands-on foreign systems (IGCSE, A-levels) but it also has a fair bit of work load in middle school.
For IIT JEE and other entrance examinations, there is a large variety of online material available nowadays. Location and physical coaching in a brick and mortar environment is no longer necessary.
Schools affiliated to the Kerala board are also present in the gulf countries. They cater to the large malayali population in the gulf countries and the middle east.
For candidates aspiring to pursue higher studies in the United States or England, after grade 12, the CBSE and ISC systems are better recognized than the local Kerala Board, in North America and Europe. Taking the SAT and TOEFL is generally required for entering undergrad programs in the United States. Often, applications do get a significant boost, if candidates take the AP examinations or Subject SAT tests. Medals won in International Olympiads significantly boost us chances, but naturally, this is a rare achievement. There are some gaps but the Indian syllabus typically does cover most of what is present in the American Common Core or British GCSE/GCE, so there isn't too much of a shock when a student from the Indian system moves to the USA or UK or Canada for undergrad.
These are the names and addresses of some CBSE schools in Kuwait. However, academic performance data is not available for them.
"The “Gujarat Self-Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Bill, 2017,” provides for fixing of tuition fee for primary schools at Rs 15,000 per annum, for secondary at Rs 25,000 and for higher secondary at .Rs 27,000 annually."
This is atrocious and will decimate quality private schools in Gujarat. Not sure if minority schools can bypass this regulation as well but something on those lines has indeed happened in Delhi where even minority schools on subsidized land have claimed full admission autonomy.
From movie tickets to school fees everything needs to be "fixed" in India but at least fix the numbers properly else you will create a shortage like the school crunch in Delhi where barely 1 or 2 new good schools have opened up in the last 20 years. The primary school cap actually looks sort of okay though you can't provide much fancy sports infra etc in that much if you have good teachers.
The secondary schools and higher secondary! Hardly any decent ISC/CBSE schools charge less than 50k and its generally around 75k, sometimes even 1 lakh. these are schools which not just perform well in exams but also have lots of extra stuff, sports and extra-curricular infra - and often outsource some teaching of advanced classes for AP, SAT, JEE, NEET to coaching chains who send excellent teachers.
These are schools which bulk dispatch dozens of students to top US universities, AIIMS, IITs, DU etc. Per child gov school expenditure in a state like UP is 30000 per annum in higher classes (can only imagine where it goes).
I guess everybody can be a beneficiary of uniform mediocrity in India. For a lot people I know their school + coaching fee was probably more than this in early 2000s.
The Delhi Nursery admission process is like getting a Stanford PhD admit. It doesn't however, require a Stanford PhD to understand the fairly obvious reason for this mess.
I was running some numbers. 2.5 lakh students appeared for the CBSE class 12 exams in Delhi in 2016. And there are barely 5000 odd seats in what may be considered "good or okay schools" (judging on class average > 75% which is hardly a criteria). This is the state of most basic education in the national capital.
Good Delhi chains are expanding all over south India instead of Delhi because no one wants to work under the AAP regime. Shri Ram, Heritage, DPS etc. are all expanding in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai.
Even having access to a real or fake "Minority exemption" in the case of Delhi, doesn't really mean very much given the land price. With land at 50+ crores per acre who is going to go through the headache of NOC + EC + RTE-quota to run a non-profit under constant harassment from pesky NGOs with excitable activists.
The answer is very simple: real estate barons setting up schools only to prop up land prices. And their commitment to education lasts only as long as flats are sold.
Which is why you see that other than a few stray cases the best schools in Delhi are still the old ones like DPS RK Puram, Modern Barakhamba etc. While it requires at least 2000 good schools.
Plus most of the good schools don't want the RTE quota as it messes up either their exam results or their finances. Chains with a good reputation would rather not expand than lose all admission autonomy and their academic reputation. You can't even fail or weed out under-performers once under the purview of the RTE.
I was looking at the list of top CISCE schools in Mumbai. Each one of the top 9 or 10 schools had quietly marked themselves as a "minority institution" (Gujarati, Parsee, Sindhi, Anglo Indian, Christian and what not) to bypass the RTE quota. Pushing people into this Article 30 bypass opens up a serious problem of its own where a school could even be setup on subsidised land and get 100% aid from the govt and still jack up their fees sky high and not admit a single EWS case (when some kind of % ought to be there).
Three quarters of Delhi government schools don't run a Science section in class 11 and 12. So while AAP might advertise gleaming floors and repainted classrooms, you aren't going to see parents line up for them anytime soon.
While the American Common Core is a topic of contentious debate among educators as well as politicians, there are various aspects of that syllabus which should be noticed by curriculum designers all over the world.
My experience with the American university system is limited: I did an undergraduate internship at a research lab under the University System of Georgia, worked for a couple of years as a college hire at Microsoft in Redmond when I tried to observe the traits of US educated peers. I also did a ton of online Coursera courses. A significant chunk of my friends though, attended grad school or even undergrad programs in the United States. The picture above, is one clicked over a decade ago, in the lab I mentioned.
There's something to be said about the higher education system in the United States. It is a class apart. It is not without reason that students from India, China and Europe - all flock to American colleges and universities. What is it which makes the US college experience so unique? I am only making an attempt to guess.
Nice data presentation at ReportBee.com
Score distribution in Tamil Nadu Class 12 HSC Examination (Board exams of 2016).
This is the story of how Tamil Nadu out-gamed CBSE at their own game in bagging DU BCom seats at premier colleges like SRCC.
Check the shape of the Commerce/Accounts distributions vs Chemistry, CS.
Early spike I can understand - that's just before the pass mark. This is how we inflate away our bad news.
Then we will complain of "cultural academic bias" when we rank 70 out of 71 in a basic elementary school test like PISA.
And our NGO/Activists will write ramblings about how not to benchmark ourselves using "stress-causing" tests.
I am okay with liberal grading and assessment on a non-overloaded syllabus - just that the numbers shouldn't be edited and inflated arbitrarily else there's no good way to be sure about what a thermometer is telling.
Murali Manohar Joshi might have had his share of some silly ideas for sure (Astrology) but few people contributed to UG capacity creation in the 2000s the way he did though he drew much flak for the hurry. And everyone has their own fair share of bad or silly ideas - we should look at their broader contributions.
Awarded deemed university status and liberalized the regime and allowed the private sector to open up capacity creation for tens of thousands of students who probably don't know remember to thank him - SRM, VIT, DAIICT, Amity, Amrita, Sharda, Nirma, BITs Pilani Goa/Hyderabad campuses etc.
Many players were terribly substandard. But when even our top universities have extremely questionable quality most of the time, that's a very different issue. Even a poor quality degree can give placebo confidence versus sending a teenager into panic mode.
Tens of thousands of students from these universities went for their MS etc. to good US universities and benefited from jobs which they otherwise wouldn't have landed up with.
Even the IT services and startup expansion, product biggies like MS, Google, Oracle office expansion post 2007 or so wouldn't have been possible without the critical mass of workforce from universities created in his regime. This was one award very well deserved. But now there's a problem. Players setup in that time have a monopoly and no incentive to compete or improve because the liberalised regime went with him.
Sometimes recall matters more than precision.
This is a very well deserved Padma award.
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