07 July 2012

Our exams and marking keys

This post is related to a newspaper report which I happened to  read yesterday. The report touched upon a very important issue of concern to parents, teachers and students.

I think that the common notion among parents that examiners give marks only if students reproduce textbook contents verbatim is somewhat exaggerated. As in K-12 examination systems all over the world, our examination boards too have specific marking keys for every paper which students write. These marking keys, as any professional would know, function by giving correct answers as examples, to guide examiners when marking answer scripts. Marking keys are not meant to be strictly prescriptive.

Though I studied in the Tamilnadu State Board System nearly 5 decades back, parental perception in general was no different. But still, I used to write answers using my own words and get very good marks. When I wrote my SSLC examination in 1966, I obtained 71 per cent in English. I lost 10 per cent because I missed answering the question which tested puncturation, due to oversight. Otherwise, I should have obtained 81 per cent in the paper. We used to get full marks for any correct answer irrespective of whether it was reproduced verbatim from textbooks or not.

In 1960s, unlike today, Tamilnadu State Board Exam answer scripts were being marked by Board nominated Assistant Examiners (who were also subject teachers) in their own residences. My father had served as Assistant Examiner as well as Chief Examiner. Whenever he received answer scripts, he would mark them, add marks for all the answers and write it at a specified place on the answer script as required by the Board. My responsibility was to add the marks and confirm that there was no mistake by oversight. My father used to give monetary compensation for my part of the work. As marking of scripts was being done during summer holidays, it didn't affect my schooling in any way. This was a common practice in teachers' houses in those days. I remember having bought my first ever wrist watch using the money which I got by doing this work, years later in 1969, when I was doing my first degree course. Strict parents never used to give any `pocket money' in those days.

I have literally seen my father giving marks even if the wording in the answer script was different from that of the textbook as long as the answers were correct. Moreover, as a science and physics teacher himself, my father used to introduce many innovations thereby deviating from `standard' presentation. When I began teaching I did the same thing.   

As a former K-12 teacher and school principal (who has served as examination superintendent for CBSE Exams), I think that what matters to the examiner is the quality of answers and nothing else, unless the examiner is ignorant of answers beyond those from textbooks or marking keys.

Oddly enough, I have come across many K-12 teachers, with B Ed and M Ed degrees, who cannot pronounce `quite' and `quiet', `science' and `signs' etc. differently or cannot find the difference between `describe' and `explain'. (Even some BBC news readers seem to be oblivious of pronunciational difference between `of' and `off'). I know of a  K-12 school principal who can be heard saying, "They doesn't know..". The 3 decades old school in Chennai is affiliated to the Tamilnadu State Board and CBSE. These are clear indications of lack of quality in recruitment, performance appraisal and professional development of teachers and principals in our school systems.

Regarding Comprehensive  and Continuous Evaluation (CCE) introduced by CBSE and followed by different State Boards, though the aims and objectives seem to be good in a pedagogic sense, the evaluation process is often misused like in the case of internal marks for practical exams. The only way to ensure that this does not happen is to revamp the pattern completely, somewhat like how Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations does.

In general, problems can be sorted out by reducing quantity and increasing baseline requirements, in terms of quality

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.