Random Thoughts


Bashing the Bihar Toppers is a fad. Let's look at CBSE Practical Scores

posted Jun 19, 2017, 11:23 PM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 21, 2017, 4:29 AM ]

It has become a fad for folk to bash the Bihar toppers. Bihar gets so much attention only because, well, it is Bihar.

Here's the histogram of practical scores in Physics and Computer Science in CBSE. Nearly everyone gets either a full score of 30 or a nominal one or two marks short of it. And yet, if you try to hire, you can't find folk who can build a trivial circuit or program or even write a single paragraph without making serious grammatical mistakes. Then there's ICSE where the pass rate which hasn't dropped below 98% for 4-5 years.
ISC Pass rate has never dropped below 95 in the past five year.




There is a compounding cost to all this inaccurate assessment and score inflation. Have a few key stage assessments but get them right. The folk will go on to enroll in shady colleges, then probably do some name-sake post graduate degree too - when in reality, just a high-school education would have been sufficient to reach that standard, if the bar had been kept sufficiently high. It is easy to make fun of Bihar. But at least their toppers have scores in the high eighties at max, unlike CBSE/ISC where the centum is the limit.

Now, the CBSE is pretending to hold an enquiry into all these marking snafus.
As long as a steady stream of reporters and journalists keep discovering the magic of data uploaded our old blogs, these folk are not going to have an easy time specially now that people are freaking out all over the country. Such a massive examining body (also running critical entrance exams now) should have been run by a team of assessment professionals, academics and statisticians. Definitely not some UPSC officer suddenly shunted into an academic body when his prime competence is most likely dishing out orders to semi-educated folk in rural areas.


The 99% DU cut-offs are most likely a marketing gimmick

posted Jun 14, 2017, 11:48 PM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 14, 2017, 11:52 PM ]

It is that time of the year again when Delhi University cut-offs will be in the news.
One thing I have always suspected is that DU's high cut-offs in the first few lists are nothing but a big advertising campaign much of the time. So even some unknown college gets its name in the paper by keeping a 99-100% cut off and going to town with that wild number. Nobody looks at the numbers in their third, fourth, fifth list.
When unheard-of colleges keep 100% cut-offs the marketing intent is as clear as can be.
And people will run a free advertising campaign for colleges which do that by making a headline out of it by shouting "99% cut-off" when the fact is, that even with all this score inflation there are barely 250 kids getting that score in CBSE or ISC and many among them do not apply to DU. If you trace them you will see that some will go abroad and many to an IIT or BITs and now a few will go to Ashoka. Some will go to places closer to their home: Kolkata or Mumbai University.
I can understand 95, 96. 97 percent cut-offs. And when students from Tamil Nadu or AP throng a specific college like SRCC, even 99% makes sense. But as of now that is the exception, not the norm. Though it might quickly change this year as word is out in South India that there is an incredible offer in Delhi University where one can simply walk in with inflated marks.

Much ado about the IIT JEE

posted Jun 13, 2017, 3:28 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 13, 2017, 3:30 AM ]

The results of the JEE are out and one can see interviews of folk who spent the last 2-3 years slogging and cramming for this examination. It is encouraging to see kids pursue options other than IIT despite the ranks to do so.
At least 25% of the topics in the JEE exam are completely irrelevant for students of most programs - or can easily be taught in a 1 semester course in the streams which need them (from what I remember, mostly Chemistry). On the other hand by now the exam should have included some necessary general skills. It badly needs to cover critical topics like language, spatial skills, statistics, major current events and some algorithmic thinking topics like simple graph theory examples (railway network). The IIT JEE syllabus can do with a lot less esoteric topics.
The point is not to select a different bunch of people, though some of that will happen as well. There will always be pressure given a finite number of seats, the idea is to use academic energy "economically" to prevent burnt-out before on-boarding. If academics don't do the reforms then the likes of Kapil Sibal will.
The quality of Indian academics and educators is on full display whether it is the school exams or the entrance exams like the IIT JEE or the NEET. Which is why the next generation will be even worse.

Discussions around Rote, Rigor, Testing and Marks

posted Jun 13, 2017, 1:53 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 16, 2017, 5:47 PM ]

Standardized testing is always a controversial topic and the concerns over rote and rigor always arise in any discussion related to it. 
There are two separate issues and we need to partition them appropriately. When people complain about specific tests and examinations, such as the workload required by the JEE, the real issue to zoom into is often the curriculum prescribed for it or the poor design of the test itself. 

The test and curriculum design themselves.
We can all agree on that - in the Indian context, a lot of top-down centralization and standardization of curriculum and systems is a disaster for such a large country. The NEET is just a recent example of this, not just for its legal and operational issues, but also academic ones. 
And the extent of the recall based component makes our tests far more of a burden than necessary, often with retrograde effects. 

The second issue is the relevance of test scores and academic assessments.

Fine grained reading into these scores is pointless. But regardless of what the most seasoned of school educators might recommend with or without authority, the professors right from Delhi University to Harvard to Oxford, do look at the results in exams and assessments of some sort. Similarly the hiring manager in a research or technology or finance firm will almost always screen out candidates who have no trace of academic accomplishment on their resume. They will not be enamoured by a teacher certifying that the student has potential to learn - they will screen using marks or grades. They are the gatekeepers of the economy and the workforce which I referred to. And they very much care about academic records, except for outliers who have proven themselves in other ways.

Great test scores or GPAs don't necessarily give people a free pass to anything, but poor ones lead to almost instantaneous disqualification. 
While we shouldn't obsess over either, the "marks don't matter" is only as true as the "money doesn't matter" line of thought: to varying extents, they both do. 
And while they tell far from the entire picture, to suggest that they don't matter at all, is to de-value the work of the schools or individuals or institutions which perform well. 
To deny that reality and to perpetuate that hoax, is turning into a bit of a fad nowadays, while ignoring the disastrous consequences of these poor test scores on the careers of folk in govt schools with poor results. As a stark example: Only 219 out of around 30k MBBS seats in TN, went to kids from govt. schools. Less than 1%. What was the bottle neck - their low marks (for whatever reason). 
It is likely that a similar analysis will see the same kids blocked out of a variety of career options for the same reason. The wash-back phenomenon of teaching to the test is a real issue - but preferable to not teaching at all (current situation in India).

We cannot conflate life stories with data. Plenty of individuals who excel in academics will fail in the real world and plenty who fare poorly in tests and academics will be fine in the long run.
But the probability that those who ace their tests will end up better off, is very much for real till the world discovers a better currency to calibrate competence. 
Singapore, Hong Kong, US, UK, Taiwan - all have various kinds of testing and assessments. 
Finland does fine without it, but it is a rich and small country which can afford a very high per-child spend. Also the Finnish model results in "most do fine" outcome but it doesn't produce that many high-achievers.

This is specially true in a developing country like India where any non-exam centric process, which is ostensibly liberal, could turn too expensive (and hence illiberal). 
US universities or closer home, Ashoka University - they are willing to consider a multitude of activities and accomplishments, while using test scores and GPAs only as a coarse filter.
However those activities need a lot of supporting infrastructure or exposure which an average kid in India will not be able to pay for. 








The IIMs seem to be doing very little of domestic or International interest

posted Jun 7, 2017, 5:07 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 7, 2017, 5:08 AM ]

I came across this absolute stunner while trying to benchmark data on my site with that of other sites in the country. IIM websites have less traffic than mine - which, I hasten to add, isn't some sort of felicitation of the eyeballs I have managed to pull, but rather, a revelation of how little global or domestic interest there is in whatever worthless crap IIM faculty publish or how useless their websites are in terms of the content they democratize.


I was specially amazed by the IIM Ahmedabad graph and just as I suspected, there seems to be a bug in reaching many of their pages.
It is actually quite funny in some ways. The data uploaded on my website has been scrutinised and cited in papers by UK/HBS professors and they backlink to it, which is why Google possibly pushes it up in rankings. But not from any of these low-grade local "policy academics".
There is a very real danger with "policy wonks" to the entire country - there is a natural self-selection bias in India where lots of mediocre people with limited insight, or achievements, but good intentions, like opportunities to parade like peacocks with big shots and leaders, and will try to convert fanciful insights from the domain of academics or idealism, into *LAW*. Such people after failing to make a mark in anything worthwhile often find their "true calling" in "policy space".


Here's a look at how IIMB traffic stacks up verus mine. And another graph displaying the stark difference between the traffic on the website of IITB and one of the IIMs. That however, is not surprising.
The IIMs are not really an internationally known name while the IITs are indeed recognized as good undergrad schools for the most part.




Right from the NEET to the JEE Mains to the Board Examination: CBSE's IAS Bureaucrats are an Unmitigated Disaster

posted Jun 7, 2017, 4:52 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 7, 2017, 4:56 AM ]

Nowadays the medical MBBS entrance (NEET) is also conducted by CBSE and after their high school exam, it is turn for that too to be stuck in the courts because they used different questions for papers in different languages! I think they conduct the screening test for IITs also nowadays and again they did something like using multiple sets of papers with different questions (and no kind of statistical calibration).

This is a body which knows nothing about assessments and is run by some third-rate IAS babus, the last two were suspected to be extremely corrupt. People spend years preparing for these exams so fairness should be non-negotiable. After all this recent fuss and court cases, it seems like their priority was to hide their data before more walls instead of fixing processes. Well we got hold of a copy of it in any case and look at one example from their class 12 exam, scores in English.
So now we're on a new level altogether: not only are exam marks distorted, but there is also a new variable in how your marks will be edited - which zone you take the exam from.

My old posts from 2013-2015 are here:

The 4 graphs are for zone 4 (Mumbai-Chennai), zone 9 (Delhi) and for zone 6,7 and the rest. Zone 4 is one kind of histogram, zone 9 is another kind of histogram, and the rest are more like one expects, though the extent of the negative skew reflects fairly liberal assessment. So if you can add 10-12 marks to your score by taking the exam from a class 12 school in Delhi instead of Gurgaon! What kind of an organization has been handed over charge of such critical assessments.


Chennai Zone Candidates (Competing with TN Board)? Here's how the English Core Histogram looks

A very generous inflation and a rather high modal mark of 91.


Delhi Zone Candidates (Competing for DU Seats)? Here's how the English Core Histogram looks

A very generous inflation and a very large cluster at 95.



Other Zone Candidates (Competing for DU Seats)? Here's how the English Core Histograms look (liberal marking, but no score tampering)




Now here's the thing.
(a) India is a country focused on exams and assessments.
(b) But we cannot conduct a few key stage assessments properly.
Basically (b) leads to (a).
When you can't check a few critical checkpoints properly (post-high school, post-undergrad -- SAT/GRE) then you require duplicity of exams and multiple layers of exams.

Just imagine. now we see interviews of CAT/UPSC toppers who in their 20s, even 30s, being felicitated for clearing yet another exam at an age when people are building companies, doing high end research, complex surgeries and what not. Frankly, if someone has already been among school toppers and done well in university exams/JEE/NEET/CAT etc. and all the other half dozen worthless exams which exist in the country, why do you require yet another round of assessment. Why not call at least such people directly for interviews.

The Unacceptable and Criminal Blunders by the CBSE right from NEET to JEE to the Board Examinations

posted Jun 7, 2017, 3:58 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 18, 2017, 7:03 PM ]

Nowadays the medical MBBS entrance (NEET) is also conducted by CBSE and after their high school exam, it is turn for that too to be stuck in the courts because they used different questions for papers in different languages! I think they conduct the screening test for IITs also nowadays and again they did something like using multiple sets of papers with different questions (and no kind of statistical calibration).
This is a body which knows nothing about assessments and is run by some third-rate IAS babus, the last two were suspected to be extremely corrupt. People spend years preparing for these exams so fairness should be non-negotiable. After all this recent fuss and court cases, it seems like their priority was to hide their data before more walls instead of fixing processes. Well we got hold of a copy of it in any case and look at one example from their class 12 exam, scores in English.
The 4 graphs are for zone 4 (Mumbai-Chennai), zone 9 (Delhi) and for zone 6,7 and the rest. Zone 4 is one kind of histogram, zone 9 is another kind of histogram, and the rest are more like one expects, though the extent of the negative skew reflects fairly liberal assessment. So if you can add 10-12 marks to your score by taking the exam from a class 12 school in Delhi instead of Gurgaon! What kind of an organization has been handed over charge of such critical assessments.


Chennai Zone Candidates (Competing with TN Board)? Here's how the English Core Histogram looks

A very generous inflation and a rather high modal mark of 91.


Delhi Zone Candidates (Competing for DU Seats)? Here's how the English Core Histogram looks

A very generous inflation and a very large cluster at 95.

Other Zone Candidates (Competing for DU Seats)? Here's how the English Core Histograms look (liberal marking, but no score tampering)






Now here's the thing.
(a) India is a country focused on exams and assessments.
(b) But we cannot conduct a few key stage assessments properly.
Basically (b) leads to (a).
When you can't check a few critical checkpoints properly (post-high school, post-undergrad -- SAT/GRE) then you require duplicity of exams and multiple layers of exams.

Just imagine. now we see interviews of CAT/UPSC toppers who in their 20s, even 30s, being felicitated for clearing yet another exam at an age when people are building companies, doing high end research, complex surgeries and what not. Frankly, if someone has already been among school toppers and done well in university exams/JEE/NEET/CAT etc. and all the other half dozen worthless exams which exist in the country, why do you require yet another round of assessment. Why not call at least such people directly for interviews.

The Unacceptable Blunders in JEE, NEET and Board Examinations run by the CBSE

posted Jun 7, 2017, 3:52 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji

Nowadays the medical MBBS entrance (NEET) is also conducted by the CBSE and after their high school exam, it is turn for that too to be stuck in the courts because they used different questions for papers in different languages! I think they conduct the screening test for IITs also nowadays and again they did something like using multiple sets of papers with different questions (and no kind of statistical calibration).
This is a body which knows nothing about assessments and is run by some third-rate IAS babus, the last two were suspected to be extremely corrupt. People spend years preparing for these exams so fairness should be non-negotiable.After all this recent fuss and court cases around the very controversial moderation of scores, it seems like their priority was to hide their data before more walls instead of fixing processes. Well we got hold of a copy of it in any case and look at one example from their class 12 exam, scores in English.
The 4 graphs are for zone 4 (Mumbai-Chennai), 9 (Delhi) and for 6,7 and the rest. Zone 4 is one kind of histogram, zone 9 is another kind of histogram, and the rest are more like one expects, though the extent of the negative skew reflects fairly liberal assessment. So if you can add 10-12 marks to your score by taking the exam from a class 12 school in Delhi instead of Gurgaon! What kind of an organization has been handed over charge of such critical assessments.






Now here's the thing.
(a) India is a country focused on exams and assessments.
(b) But we cannot conduct a few key stage assessments properly.
Basically (b) leads to (a).
When you can't check a few critical checkpoints properly (post-high school, post-undergrad -- SAT/GRE) then you require duplicity of exams and multiple layers of exams.

Just imagine. now we see interviews of CAT/UPSC toppers who in their 20s, even 30s, being felicitated for clearing yet another exam at an age when people are building companies, doing high end research, complex surgeries and what not. Frankly, if someone has already been among school toppers and done well in university exams/JEE/NEET/CAT etc. and all the other half dozen worthless exams which exist in the country, why do you require yet another round of assessment. Why not call at least such people directly for interviews.

 

India wastes its brain power in multitude of Exams instead of conducting a few reliable ones

posted Jun 2, 2017, 11:49 PM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Jun 3, 2017, 11:15 PM ]

It is really embarrassing to see UPSC/CAT toppers being interviewed at this time of the year - these smart young people are often in their 20s- 30s, at an age when people are building companies, doing high end research, contesting elections, climbing mountains and what not. The fuss around school toppers, kids admitted to MIT/Stanford, JEE toppers, Olympiad winners etc is somewhat understandable - happens at a much younger age and that is a critical funnel all across the world. This is what happens when you can't conduct a *few* key stage assessments correctly enough to rely on them (end of school, college(GRE-like)).
We can't get one or two assessments right so we have ten of them and we have projected it as some sort of virtue for people to be studying for some arbitrary exam at any point of time. If a kid is among school toppers, then gets through DU/JEE/NEET whatever, does well over there - just call them over for a quick screening and interview and have them join the services and hit the ground running as quickly as possible. Will be more efficient for those who get rejected as well.
This whole business of chasing a "one country, one merit list" half a dozen times in a person's lifetime is a chimera - flawed at best, dangerous at worse, and huge time-sink which drains the time and energy of a lot of smart young people. Just imagine if all this academic horse power was either used inside real academic programs or PhDs or to actually do/build stuff, how much more useful it will be.
This is not an indictment of the successful individuals who made it on the basis of sheer grit and intelligence. This is a story of how India spends its brain power.
Not all drops of sweat are equal.
This is why universities like Ashoka and ISB are a welcome addition in the landscape. They allow an element of subjectivity in their admissions process to make sure that people get recognized for what they do rather than something they arbitrary need to do.

Layoffs in IT Services - Infosys, TCS. Mahindra, CTS

posted May 25, 2017, 12:59 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji

Infosys, TCS, Cognizant and other IT service companies might simply move many jobs to the US for good and it's a perfectly rational thing to do.
It is hard to get comprehensive data but STEM and CS major enrollment seems to be shooting through the roof over there (versus humanities which seems to be getting dumped) which means that the supply of grads will be enough for them to find folk in the zone of what they pay. I'm not suggesting that a Stanford or UCLA grad will seek employment in the IT services sector but many from state universities might. And the truth is that one US-educated engineer at 95k is likely to be more productive that 3 local ones going onsite at 60k. The slowness and low-tech-ness of Indian IT services is actually what made it such a massive employment engine.
The companies might very well survive by pivoting into a more advanced domain but the jobs will not. For affected folk: MOOCs are your friend. A few serious programming and data science courses from Coursera, Udacity and Edx are all that you need. Also do make sure to do a few courses to improve your command on language and your knowledge of business. These layoffs and pink-slips might be a blessing in disguise. You might end up realizing your true potential.


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