With the Assam government accepting the recommendations made by the vice chancellors panel, the stage is set for Board of Secondary Education, Assam (SEBA) to apply the new marks moderation policy on HSLC/AHM examinees this year itself. It is now official that an examinee can be awarded maximum 5 grace marks in one subject, and the facility would be restricted to 3 subjects for that examinee. So the first rule that has been clearly laid down is that grace marks should be awarded to an examinee struggling to cross the minimum pass marks and falling short margilly. This is as it should be. It will put an end to the alleged earlier practice of grace marks being awarded across the board, benefiting even examinees scoring 75-80 percent marks. That it was Education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma himself who made this revelation in the Assembly, lent credence to suspicions that all was not above board as far as rising pass percentages in HSLC/AHM exams was concerned. This has been seconded by the VCs panel report which says: “There has been striking rise in the pass percentage of the students over the last 15 years or so. The proportion of successful students with extraordiry performance has also shot up during this period.” Sarma had implied that some examinees in past years may have received as much as 40 percent more marks than they actually scored. Now that this travesty of an evaluation practice will be junked, this year’s HSLC/AHM results to be declared by May end will prove to be an acid test in more ways than one. If pass percentages dip alarmingly, it will likely blow the lid off institutiolized manipulation of marks by SEBA. Unless clean-up measures in the State board are not speedily implemented, much time and energy will be dissipated in recrimitions and counter-recrimitions. The Education minister has promised to bring back compartmental exams in case the pass percentage falls below 65 percent, and to declare those results in time to eble examinees to secure college admissions. However, the SEBA authority will have to take a call about compartmental exams, in case these are held this year — on whether examinees failing to clear two or three subjects will be allowed to sit for it. Considering the huge numbers likely to be involved (over 3.8 lakh students took the class X board fils this year), Sarma will have to work overtime to keep his word. He can do without the sort of glitches that marred his previous announcements like free distribution of textbooks and free college admissions.
Regarding normalization or moderation of marks by SEBA, the VCs panel has recommended that the policy be continued — as per established procedure followed elsewhere, and based on ‘rigorous statistical alysis’. The difficulty of maintaining a level playing field with several thousand examiners evaluating several lakh examinees, along with question papers containing an exterlly examined part and an interlly assessed part — has been highlighted in the report. The panel has also favoured marks moderation as compensation for ‘idvertent lapses’ like questions set from portions outside the syllabus, questions containing ambiguously translated or transliterated technical terms, or discrepancies in digital assessment. Another important recommendation is about ensuring transparency here, so that SEBA issues notifications before declaring results, mentioning how much grace marks and moderated marks have been awarded for a particular year. The Education minister has further said that a similar review of awarding grace marks or moderated marks in class XII fils under the State HS council will be carried out next year. This review must be carried out with due seriousness without seeking to score political points; it will need adequate time and preparation as well. There should be no intention to shock and awe with class XII fils, as is suspected to have been the case with Sarma’s disclosure about SEBA. After all, performance in the Higher Secondary exams will decide an aspirant’s chances to select subjects for graduation or go for engineering, medical and other professiol courses on all-India competitive basis. Significantly, the VCs panel has underlined the need to assess the ‘competitive ability of the students passed out of the HSLC examition at the subsequent state, regiol and tiol level examitions’. The Education minister too has said that an independent study will be conducted to track the academic growth of students who have passed HSLC examitions in the last five years. Such studies should be the norm in coming years, so that necessary course correction is done after class X fils. Students taking the class XII fils must not be left in any illusions as to where they stand in terms of scholastic ability, which can be ensured only through rigorous and transparent evaluation from class X stage itself.