The Centre is in favour of introducing a pan-India entrance examination for admissions to the IITs, the NITs, and even all engineering colleges. A look at the options and the implications for the Kerala government.

The Union government appears to be inching its way towards instituting a pan-India entrance examination for admissions to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the National Institutes of Technology (NITs), and even all engineering colleges.

The broad idea is to have an all-India rank list prepared by combining, in some manner, the marks scored in one or more aptitude tests and those scored in the Plus Two examinations.

A committee, headed by T. Ramaswami, Secretary, Science and Technology, has roped in the Indian Statistical Institute for a formula to ensure that such “factoring in” becomes practical and fair across dozens of examination boards in the country.

Kerala has been there and done that. It is fighting a battle in the Kerala High Court against allegations that the system used for normalising marks in the board examinations ended up being unfair to students from the streams of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Indian School Certificate (ISC).

The jury is still out on the soundness of Kerala's nascent methodology for combining board marks and entrance examination scores for preparing an engineering admission rank list.

A pan-India engineering entrance examination may or may not become a reality by the time the State's students get ready to write the entrance examinations of 2012.

All the same, Kerala would do well to keep its ear to the ground vis-à-vis the Centre's thinking on the issue, especially necessary if the State does not wish a re-run of the situation in 2011 where its officers ran from pillar to post trying to get statistical details of the marks of more than 40 examination boards in the country and abroad.

Online survey

Before making up its mind on a one-stop entrance examination for engineering courses, Mr. Ramaswami decided to conduct an online survey to gauge the public mood on reforms to the Joint Entrance Examination for the IITs. “As many as 2,063 people took part in the online survey,” he told The Hindu-EducationPlus over the phone from New Delhi.

“And there was robust support for an all-India examination.”

Fifty-nine per cent of the participants were students; eight per cent, teachers; 5.5 per cent, parents; and 23.4 per cent, non-teaching professionals.

A presentation prepared by Mr. Ramaswami says 80 percent of the respondents had written an entrance examination prior to taking the survey.

Of the 1,220 student participants, 80 per cent are from the engineering stream. Of the 160 teachers who participated, 90 per cent are engaged in tertiary education.

Eighty-five percent of the participants, Mr. Ramaswami said, voted for reforms in the admission system to the IITs and the NITs.

On the question of factoring in performances in school boards, 66 per cent of the respondents favoured the idea; 45 per cent of those who opposed the concept feared that board examinations do not properly assess the capabilities of students and 30 per cent expressed concerns about non-uniformity of assessment.

Of the 620 participants who responded to the question on setting up an Indian equivalent of the SAT Reasoning Test in the U.S., 73 per cent voted in favour. Of the 646 respondents to “types of tests,” 70 per cent preferred a mix of aptitude and advanced tests.

Seventy per cent of the respondents voted for “one test with provisions for testing both aptitude and advanced knowledge,” the presentation read.

Pilot testing

The Ramaswami committee pilot-tested the normalisation of scores of the examination boards. It selected the CBSE, the ISC, and the Tamil Nadu and the West Bengal boards for data across four years. The idea was to evaluate the stability of scores over time for the same board and to determine the potential for “mapping the profiles of several boards onto one selected board through monotone transformations.”

The process went thus.

Select a percentile score (P) for all boards and determine the scores (X1) for P across boards.

Mapping

Model 1: Y1= {Xn – X1}/{Xm-X1}

Model 2: Y2 = Xn/X1

(Xn , X1 , and Xm are scores, marks corresponding to percentile P, and maximum scores, respectively, obtained by any candidate in each board. Y1 will range from 0 to 1; while Y2 will be ratios in the range from 1 to Xm/X1).

Mr. Ramaswami said the percentile scores were found to be “relatively stable over the periods studied for each board when aggregate percentage scores are analysed.” He said it proved that normalisation of percentile ranks was possible across boards. “Correlations of normalised percentile ranks against percentile ranks of various boards map on to common linear relationship,” he said.

The committee recommended to the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development that a statistically significant number of volunteers from the existing student population be asked to take a pilot test for evaluating different models. It recommended two approaches for a revamped admission system.

The consistency of performance in school board examinations could be weighed and employed to test the ability to find solutions and this could be combined with one objective screening test with two sections: one to test aptitude and another, to test advanced knowledge in “domain areas.” Alternatively, there could be one objective aptitude test with multiple-choice questions and computer-based correction systems.

And here is something that Kerala might want to pay close attention to. The Ramaswami committee has set forth six options for combining the performances in an aptitude test and the school board examinations.

Option 1: Deployment of scores as criteria based on class XII performance only

Equal weighting of school board scores A1 and A2

Equal weighting of aptitude scores A4 and advanced scores A5

Normalized score = {A1 + A 2+A4 +A5}/4

Option 2: Deployment of scores as criteria based on class XII performance only

Equal weighting of board score A3 which is {A1+ A2}/2

Equal weighting of aptitude scores A4 and A5

Normalised score = {A3 +A 4+A5}/3

Option 3: Deployment of scores as criteria based on consistency of performance at class X and Class XII and in the national-level aptitude and advanced tests

Equal weighting for aggregate and subject performance at class X and XII levels: 0.1 X (normalised score at class X in aggregate + normalized score at class X in subjects of choice + normalized score at class XII + normalized score at class XII in subjects of choice)

One-third weighting of aptitude score 0.3 A4

One-third weighting of advanced score A5

Normalized score = 0.1{Normalised aggregate class X + normalised class X subject score + normalised class XII aggregate + normalised class XII subject score} + 0.3 A3and 0.3 A5

Option 4: Deployment of school board performance as screening but not as determinant for national ranks

Specify a cut-off normalised percentile rank score for school performance say as 80-85 percentile rank

Fifty per cent weighting of national-level aptitude score A4 for candidates passing the cut-off of percentile rank

Fifty per cent weighting of national-level advanced score A5 for candidates. Normalized score = 0.5 A4 +0.5A5

Option 5: Deployment of School Board performance as subject score and national-level aptitude test as a combination and avoid the advanced testing system according to freedom for the individual institutions to select mixing proportions within a pre-specified guideline

Option 6: Equal weighting of School Board performance as subject score and National Level Aptitude Test as objective test system where Normalized score =0.5 A2+0.5A4

Of these, the committee has indicated its preference for options two, four, five or six.

Union Human Resource Minister Kapil Sibal told The Hindu EducationPlus over phone that he would take the States on board before going ahead with the implementation of these ideas.

“It is too early in the day to say who would design the aptitude test, whether it would be exactly like the SAT or whether it would be a pen-and-paper affair or fully computerised. The States have to first agree to an all-India test.”

Mr. Ramaswami explained that the Indian Statistical Institute could be asked to fine-tune the methodology for normalising board scores. “I also plan to do normalisation of the data across 42 or so examination boards in India,” he said.

For its part, the Kerala government has given no indication yet that it is working to fine-tune its own system for preparing the engineering rank list. It could perhaps make a good beginning by talking to the Secretary, Science and Technology.