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Get set for grading in degree courses

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Set for change: Most probably from the next academic year, the degree examinations will be in a new format with the introduction of the grading system.
Set for change: Most probably from the next academic year, the degree examinations will be in a new format with the introduction of the grading system.

The State Higher Education Council has worked out the draft of a direct grading system for degree course . G. MAHADEVAN says the academic community will require a mental makeover to get into the groove of the new system.

A lecturer sitting down to evaluate the answer sheet of a degree examination in 2009 may have to do much more than jot down marks for a particular answer. In fact, there may be no marks to give, but only the intrinsic quality of an answer to assess and grade accordingly.

It will not be an overstatement to say that the lecturer will require a mental makeover to get into the groove of the grading system likely to be introduced for degree courses in the State from the academic year 2008-09.

After a series of discussions with teachers, educationists and students, the Kerala State Higher Education Council has finalised its draft recommendations for the grading system. It has proposed a five-point scale for assessing answers and a seven-point scale for giving grades. Among other things, the draft recommends that the mark sheet and the degree certificate carry the name of the college in which the candidate studied, in addition to the name of the university awarding the degree.

The council has favoured the direct grading system over the absolute grading system used at the school level. Under the absolute grading system, a candidate is given marks and then that is converted to a grade — for instance, those who score between 90 and 100 per cent get A grade.

The direct grading system presupposes that the quality and range of an answer are separated prior to evaluation. The teacher first evaluates the quality of an answer and gives grades. Afterwards, the “weightage” of that answer — as decided by the nature of the question — is assigned.

For the five-point grading system for assessing answers, the council has suggested using grades A to F with respective grade points of 4 to 0. (A= 4, B=3 and so on). The grade range proposed is as follows: 3.5 to 4 = A; 2.5 to 3.49 = B; 1.5 to 2.49 = C; 0.5 to 1.49 = D; and less than 0.5, F.

Question range

As there are various types of questions for the degree examinations, there will be “weightage” for each of them. This weightage is the “range” of the question or, loosely put, is equivalent to the number of points for which an answer is being evaluated. An essay question may, therefore, have a range of 4, a short essay may have a range of 2, a short answer 1 and a group of four one-word answers 1. If an examiner gives ‘A’ for an essay question, then its weighted grade points will be 16 (4X4). For grade A for a short essay, the weighted grade points will be 8 (4X2) and so on.

In the case of one-word-answer questions, if all four in a bunch are correct, the candidate will be given grade A. If three are correct, grade B and so on. For other types of questions, the Boards of Study may assign weightage as they deem fit, the draft reads.

The grade point average can be arrived at by dividing the sum of weighted grade points by the sum of the weightages. From the GPA, the grade for a paper can be decided according to the grade range indicated above. The same formula can be used to arrive at the grade for a particular subject.

For awarding the overall grade for a degree programme, the council has suggested the adoption of a seven-point scale ranging from A+ to D. For this, the grade ranges are as follows: 3.8 to 4 = A+; 3.5 to 3.79 = A; 3 to 3.49 = B+; 2.5 to 2.99 = B; 2 to 2.49 = C+; 1.5 to 1.99 = C; and 0.5 to 1.49 = D. This, the draft says, will help to make fine distinctions between the performances of a group of students. This will also be useful for preparing rank lists for admission to higher courses.

But why a five-point scale? Why not a seven-point scale or a nine-point one? In fact, some members of the council, during discussions on this subject, even wondered why an 11-point scale should not be adopted.

“It is not that a large scale cannot be adopted. It is just that on a larger scale, the levels of quality that have to be discerned by a teacher increases greatly. Judging whether an answer should be given A, B or C is much easier than judging whether it should be given A+ or A,” Member Secretary of the council Thomas Joseph says. It may not be possible or even necessary to have that detailed an assessment of an essay or an answer at the degree level, he points out.

During the council’s discussions on grading, many participants —particularly lecturers — repeatedly raised the point about possible distortions in awarding grades as part of internal evaluation or continuous evaluation.

How does one check the tendency of many teachers to give A to a large number of students in the class? The antidote suggested by the University Grants Commission (UGC) is “normalisation” by which A grade shall not be given to more than 7 per cent of the students in a class, B grade to not more than 24 per cent, C grade to not more than 38 per cent, C grade to not more than 24 per cent and F grade to not more than 7 per cent.

The UGC’s antidote came in for much criticism at the council’s deliberations. Some educationists even described this as a quota system in grading. The via media thought up by the council is an instruction to the effect that in any grade, there shall not be a variation of more than 100 per cent from the “normal” distribution of students across the grades. That is, the percentage of students getting A grade shall vary from 7 to 14 per cent of the student population and no more. For B grade, this shall be 0 to 48, for C, 0 to 76, for D, 0 to 48 and for F, 0 to 14.

Though this suggestion found its way into the draft, there are council members who believe there should be no attempt at normalisation or anything resembling that. The argument of these members is that the final score sheet will show separately the grades given for internal and external valuation, along with the final grade arrived at by taking the average of the scores of the internal and external evaluation. The class average and the university average for external examinations will also be shown. The name of the college would be there in the mark sheet and even on the degree certificate. Would all this not reveal any distortion in giving grades for internal assessment? Would all this — eventually, of course — not act as built-in corrective forces on internal evaluation?

What the grades convey

The draft suggests that a minimum of grade D is required in all papers for the award of the degree certificate. A separate minimum of grade C is required for internal and external examinations if the degree certificate is to be awarded. Further, only those scoring grade C+ or above will be eligible for higher studies. Irrespective of the grades they get, candidates will have the option to improve their performance in a course. The governing council of the council, chaired by Education Minister M.A. Baby, will meet on Wednesday to discuss the draft. If the governing council okays these recommendations, they will be sent as the council’s recommendations to the government, which, in turn, will forward them to all universities in the State.

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