- Using the aggregate of raw marks of A’Level subjects for University Admission is an unreliable and obsolete method, not used by other countries or systems of education. This is because of the variance and discrepancies that exist between the variety of subject combinations offered at the A’level , and therefore the element of subjectivity between different examiners during marking. Apart from a few instances where objectivity can be maintained to a degree (e.g. in MCQ and in certain components of the Maths papers), in most other situations the variance is significant. More recent research has corroborated this position.
- In the case of A’Level students offering Arts subjects (about 75% of students), traditionally ‘easy’ subjects (e.g. Buddhist Civilization, Sinhala, Political Science) are chosen. But with such subject combinations usually employment is not easily obtained. However, with the more difficult subject combinations (e.g. Maths, Food Technology, Languages, IT), through standardization the Z-Score value becomes higher. Consequently more Arts students with the ‘better’ subject combinations gained university admission during the past several years. In fact the use of raw marks in such instances proved to be a grave injustice to students.
- During 1998 discussions began to examine this issue at depth and to suggest methods to replace the existing system of using raw marks, with a more reliable and credible method for university admission. This was part of the Education/Higher Education Reform Proposals that had been proposed by the National Education Commission and the Presidential Task Forces on General and University Education.
- In 1998 some of the other key A’Level Reforms proposed, included –
Allowing students to take three subjects instead of four, introducing General English and the Common General Paper as mandatory, bringing forward the exam to April from August for very valid reasons, that the A’level not be the sole selection criterion for university admission and to broaden criteria as done in the UK.
- The University Grants Commission, the Examinations Department and experts from several Universities provided technical expertise and other forms of support in the development of such a system and finally in 2000, an accepted system of standardization – namely the Z-Score was recommended.
- After series of consultations chaired by the then President and the then Minister of Education and Higher Education, a comprehensive awareness program on the new scheme was launched.
- The new UNP Govt in 2001, discussed this system at Parliamentary Consultative Committee level and accepted the Z- Score as policy.
Introducing the Z-Score
- In 2001 the first batch of A’Level students experienced university admission selection using the Z- Score criteria. This was also first time that students offered three subjects at the A’Level and therefore two batches of students (repeaters who had offered four subjects plus the new batch offering three) sat the exam.
- The Exams Department became fully geared and thoroughly prepared itself to face this new challenge. The computer systems were upgraded and new technical expertise was introduced well ahead of the exam. The UGC and the Ministry worked in close partnership to ensure that the students will not be penalized during this important transition.
- The students who had previously offered four subjects and those that offered three, were taken as two ‘separate exams’ and therefore two sets of Z-Scores were calculated. Thereafter, all the Z – Scores from both sets were ranked together into one group and admissions were processed very efficiently during that transition year.
- Thereafter, this same system was repeated with no problems for nearly a decade, until once again a similar situation arose in 2011 when students from two types of syllabuses sat the exam.
- At the A’Level exam in August 2011 two sets of students sat the exam from two syllabuses. The marks of all the students from both groups were pooled-in and common Z-Scores were formulated.
- Unfortunately, the authorities were ill-prepared and did not foresee the eventualities that were to follow. Many students from the previous syllabus got high scores and therefore got selected for university, whereas many from the new syllabus got left out. Certain students who had scored very high marks were deprived of admission as a result.
- When they realized this situation it was too late and attempts to find remedies took time and hence the release of results got delayed. When students applied pressure the President ordered that the results be released on the 26th Dec 2011.
- Thus the Exams Dept was forced to comply and consequently, chaos ensued and the affected students petitioned the Supreme Court asking for justice.
Present situation and Remedies
- The first SC ruling – to use the original Z-Scores of both groups of students, as two separate entities without pooling (as two different exams) and to follow a similar method to that done in 2001, led to further disarray and consequently anguish amongst students.
- If access is permitted, the original raw marks and both systems that had been adopted to calculate the Z-Score should be thoroughly studied, and a fresh statistical analysis be made. This would lend credibility to the system and give students confidence that justice is prevailing.
- The experts who handled this issue 10 years ago are still available to carry out this task and they need to be asked to re-visit the 2011 exam marking systems and be given access to all the raw marks plus Z-Scores for an exhaustive analysis and study. Within three weeks they could be asked to do fresh calculations on the two sets of Z- Scores, and fresh rankings can be done. This is a do-able task, provided political interference is kept out.
- Immediately introduce a new set of Rules and Regulations into the Exams Dept and UGC in order to prevent recurrence of mishandling of this importance matter.
This is perhaps the most calamitous situation in regards to the Education system in recent times. Nearly 250,000 students and their parents are victims of circumstances.
In addition to the Z- Score fiasco, there are major issues at every level in the primary, secondary and tertiary systems of education. The latest tragedy is seen in the gross errors in most of the exam papers of the on-going 2012 A’Level exam. If these are not remedied immediately, there will be nearly 500,000 students stranded, deeply frustrated and even suicidal.
Mishandling of the entire system, ill planning, pervasive interference at all levels and extreme incompetence with poor leadership are the key contributory factors to this sad situation.