How Board Exams Have Been Turned Into A Well-Intent But Unmitigated Disaster
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This is a sample of messages that millions of Indians were forced to watch multiple times on July 13 and 15. In these two days, the Central Board of Secondary Education announced the results of approximately 2.6 million students who took their Class X and XII exams. The lack of communication of results for hours was just one of several levels that the Board’s review system has failed. From the way tests are conducted, to secrecy over answer sheets, and a reluctance to correct mistakes, Indian boards of education deny the fundamental requirements of a fair school education. Covering all that up with high marks is like putting an attractive mask on a faulty body.
Denying students their basic right
One of the blessings, or downfall, depending on the type of parent, of modern education is that after each school exam, students receive answer sheets. Some schools even require parents to sign the answer sheets. Why is this done? Because answer sheets are the best way to measure a student’s progress. By sharing it, schools allow parents to participate in their child’s progress. It also makes assessment transparent by making teachers available for scrutiny by parents and students. This standard practice is abandoned when it comes to the two most important exams in a student’s life: Class X and XII final exams.
Students cannot know who carried out their evaluation and how. Access to the answer sheets is restricted to a small fraction who have to go through a complicated and expensive process to seek revaluation. For years, TOI’s Manash Pratim Gohain has reported cases in which revaluation led to a significant increase (in many cases, duplication) of grades that altered the path of higher education for students. For example, read this and this.
CBSE, and perhaps other tables as well, make digital copies of the answer sheets. All they have to do is make those copies available to students with a password and a deadline to review and respond. As for the possible deluge of revaluation requests, that is perverse logic. It confirms the belief that the Board has something to hide. Additionally, simply announcing the answer books are accessible will lead to a significant improvement in assessment as examiners will know that their work will be analyzed.
Leaving the fate of two critical exams in the hands of foreign examiners without apparent responsibility is seriously unfair. If CBSE takes the initiative, it will compel state boards to do the same, granting a fundamental right to millions of students.
Spanking a dead horse
Try to make sense of this. In just one year, 2020, the number of students scoring more than 95% in CBSE Class XII more than doubled. And the number of 90 percent increased 67%. If this was because the Board was lenient due to Covid-19 outages, what explains why 27% drop in the number of Class X students who earned 95% or more grades and 18% in those with more 90%?
In one year, the performance of one group of students skyrocketed and another group plummeted. This happens when the evaluation system is secret. To make matters worse, all boards have awarded bonus points in the name of moderation. The ‘bonus’ goes up to 10 points per subject in some cases. Race to the bottom is mistaken for a race to the top.
Grade inflation is one reason why Board exams are no longer important for entering engineering, medicine, law, and even many general colleges. Recognizing its uselessness, CBSE had abolished Class X Boards in 2011, freeing more than a million students from useless work. It also introduced progressive measures such as continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) and the weight of internal evaluations. But soon after, the progressive steps were diluted and the X-Class Dashboard was reintroduced.
Today, the internal exams of many schools are more difficult than the exams of the Board and the qualification is more rigorous and transparent. So why are Board exams more feared? For fear of the unknown: Unknown test center, Unknown supervisors, and inability to view answer sheet. Boards of Education should decide why they want to be known: rigor or recklessness? Substance or superficiality? A student sympathizer or her worst fear?
Just not afraid
Despite all its shortcomings, CBSE is the only national board, fastest growing and better than most in India. Oversee some of the best government schools in India. You can set trends in deep reforms, the first of which should be to abolish the Class X Boards. For Class XII, you must make the evaluation transparent or make the Board optional. You should reintroduce CCE so that the future of students doesn’t depend as much on an exam as it does now. You can set up question papers and you can even introduce a mix of neutral supervisors, but exams need to be done at the students’ schools. You may want to review the answer sheets for 10% of randomly selected schools so that schools know they are under surveillance.
It is the lack of such student-friendly and learning-friendly measures that is behind the explosive rise in popularity of foreign boards of education such as the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge International. That is tragic for a country that has the highest number of schoolchildren in the world and the maximum number of school boards. And a country where thousands of students begin their day at school with an interpretation of “Where the mind is fearless and the head is held high …”.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed above are those of the author.