Grades and gratis in SLC

Ganesh Bahadur Singh


Grading is the method used to assign letters such as A, B, C, etc. or numbers such as 1, 2, 3, etc. or other symbols to report the achievement of students. Grace or gratis, as practised in the SLC examination in Nepal, is to add certain marks to the total of some students to help them pass the examination. Conceptually, grading and gratis do not go together. But these happen to be practices unique to SLC and Nepal differing from the corresponding exams and systems in other SAARC countries.

Grading, an improved practice

The outcome of an examination needs to be reported in a precise and understandable form. The School Leaving Examination, as the name implies, is a certification of 10 or more years of students’ schooling which is usually reported on a piece of paper. In that certificate a few

letters or marks or statements carry the entire evaluation of a student’s academic career. Summarising such a vast array of information in such precise form on the one hand and providing relevant and usable information to a variety of users (pupils, parents, teachers, employers, administrators, university/educational institutions, etc.) on the other is a rather challenging task. The most easy but crude method of certification is the traditional one of reporting the raw score, ie the marks obtained by the candidates in the examination. However, there are three major weaknesses in reporting raw scores. One, it assumes that scores in the examination represents fine differences in merit of respective students as the student obtaining one or even, in some cases, 0.1 mark more is assumed superior to the one obtaining a lower mark. Such fine discrimination is possible in physical measurements but not in psychological measurements such as learning achievement. Two, raw scores in the interval

scale of 101 (from 0-100) assume 0 for nothingness and 100 for perfection in achievement.

The human ability to learn as well as quest for learning does not end at any point. Learning never encounters a point at which someone is not able to benefit from further learning because his/her ability to learn is exhausted or he/she has reached the perfection. Three, reporting of raw score assumes a similar pattern of spread of score in different subjects. It does not take into account a spread of scores in different subjects nor variation from year to year. For example, a highest mark of 60 in language is always inferior to 65 marks at an average level in mathematics.

However, learning achievement is meaningfully reported in grades - one, it includes a band of scores with possibility of verifiable difference into grades; two learning achievement is considered as a continuum always possible to benefit more from further learning opportunities

and, three, all the subjects in the curriculum are treated on an equal footing and comparability

from subject to subject and year to year is well addressed. Another most important feature of grading is that it does not account for a student pass or fail. Only her/his level of learning achievement is reported. Such a scientific certification is in practice in other SAARC countries. Recently, the fail rank has been termed as weak pass in certification in Sri Lanka. In India, NCERT and CBSE are working towards abolishing pass/fail from School Level Examinations. As it stands now, Nepal is the only SAARC country where the traditional form of certification in terms of raw score is used.

Gratis, an impoverishing practice

The provision of grace/gratis marks is an unique practice in the SLC in Nepal. It is a provision that greatly affects the fate of a number of students. The Examination Committee decides the amount of grace mark(s) where it deems necessary. The Office of Controller of Examinations also instructs markers to recheck answer scripts of those candidates that are close to obtaining the pass mark, but markers are not allowed to check answer scripts with the intention to provide grace marks and pass the candidate. Such instructions confuse a number of markers and they take the instruction as an indirect instruction to add a few marks to increase a candidate’s marks up to the required level. Thus there is chance of some of the candidates benefiting from double gratis. What is the rationale behind grace marks? Grace marks can be looked into as a positive discrimination practice in the educational scenario where school conditions widely vary and this in turn affects the achievement of the students such as those marginalised owing to remoteness, unavailability of qualified and trained teachers and geographical conditions. Such arguments take up the point that given equal opportunity, those students would have also fared well. But grace mark for one and all on flat basis cannot be justified. On the other hand, if grace mark is based on the differences of the difficulty of the test from year to year, all candidates, not only the failed ones, are liable for getting the grace mark. But this is also not the case in SLC.

The only purpose which is being fulfilled by the grace marks in SLC is to increase percentage of pass candidates up to the level that SLC Board intends to. It is as such a political decision which completely ignores the theoretically correct practice. Recent literature and discussion on certification in CBSE strongly emphasised to avoid grace marking altogether. It will be better to consider allowing students to sit for improvement examinations than helping them to jump the fence. Grading is proved to be scientific and grace marking a rather incorrect practice. Let us work to bring the requisite changes in the examination system so that it is made as fool proof as the best institutions in the world.

(Ganesh Bahadur Singh is lecturer at Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahachal)