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Tight marking deadlines, difficult questions may have led to poor grades

By Moses Michira | December 23rd 2017
Stacy Mwongeli Gichohi, 17, from Maryhill Girls' High School,Thika is celebrated by family members, from left Amy (Younger sister), Tracy (Older sister) and Jacqueline (Mother) after emerging top 100 nationally with a straight A of 81 points in the just concluded Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) 2017.[David Njaaga,Standard]

Teachers who marked this year’s KCSE exam have said most questions were too difficult for the students, lending credence to claims that the massive failure was expected.

The admission by teachers that they also worked long hours could open floodgates to demands by thousands of disappointed parents for re-marking of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam papers.

Examiners told of waking up at 4am and working tirelessly through to 11pm in some centres, could also have contributed to sealing the students’ fate.

For a subject like Biology Paper II, which was being marked in Limuru Girls, the examiners had an easy time flipping through the empty answer scripts because most students did not attempt the questions.

“Marking was very easy in our centre in Limuru Girls because most questions were not answered,” said one teacher, who added “The tight timelines could have compromised the outcome.”

The trend was replicated over most other subjects, teachers, who spoke to the Saturday Standard on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said.

These claims add a new dimension to the matter that has caused national outrage, as experts weigh in with suggestions that a fairer grading would have resolved the teachers’ concerns.

A group of teachers, estimated at eight, would mark different questions on every script in an attempt to remove any inherent biases. Each teacher from the group would mark about 800 answer sheets a day.

At the Moi Forces Academy marking centre, Kiswahili Fasihi examiners enjoyed a calm start on December 4, before new instructions arrived on fast-tracking the exercise.

“We previously finished at 7pm but in the last week, the work was too much that we were only allowed to go to bed after 10pm,” said a teacher of the hectic schedule, adding that the marking centre had quickly turned into a “detention camp”.

Before the new instructions reportedly issued by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, most markers at centres distributed around the country worked between 8am and 6pm, and some even rested a whole day on Sundays.

The Kiswahili paper was also significantly tougher than usual, said the teachers.

Another examiner blamed a change in the setting of the questions, which has sharply shifted from gauging the ability to memorise to a more analytic approach. Despite the shift in examining the students, the preparation among the candidates had not changed.

“It is clear that the students needed to apply the acquired knowledge, not just memorising what they were taught in class,” said the examiner.

Feedback from the teachers suggest a deliberate shift, which could be undermining the country’s education process through unfair grading of candidates.

Former Education Permanent Secretary Prof James ole Kiyiapi, in his assessment of the massive failure among the 600,000 candidates, said the State could be punishing able students.

Punish candidates

“The overall objective of an examination should never be to punish the candidates but to harness their capacities and know where to deploy each,” said Kiyiapi, a former presidential aspirant.

Students who wish to continue with post-secondary education outside the country were specifically exposed as the institutions they intended to join do not care about the new realities at home.

Kiyiapi said the Ministry of Education should be held responsible for the widespread failure, as it should have envisaged what proportion of the candidates would join which institutions either abroad or at home.

“As it stands, our universities will have un-utilised capacity because only a 10th attained the minimum qualification grades,” he said.

About 70,000 candidates scored C+ and above in the results unveiled on Wednesday by Matiang’i, who also acknowledged the significant drop in performance.

Last year, 88,900 attained the minimum university admission grade, and have all been offered places in public universities.

Kiyiapi fears that the decision to cut the number of students qualifying to join public universities and enjoy State sponsorship could be a “hidden policy aimed at promoting certain outcomes”.

“You do not have to be so strict as to chop the number of students proceeding to university. It raises more questions than answers,” he said.

His concerns are shared by the silent many, especially when grading has previously been standardised to moderate the outcomes in ensuring most candidates score between grades B+ and C-.

Isaac Njuguna, the Director of Examinations at KASNEB – the body that administers tests for prospective accountants and public secretaries - said the skew in the Form Four results was shocking.

“How do you have almost everyone failing an exam? It is not normal,” said Mr Njuguna.

While standardising of results does not happen in grading the exams set by KASNEB, results always show a normal distribution.

He said naturally, there would be a few outstanding scores and a comparable number of candidates who score very poorly.

“Most of the candidates’ score is around the half-way mark which is our prescribed pass mark,” said Njuguna.

He cites, as possible causes for the outcome, poor teaching skills in preparation for exams, disconnect between student abilities and the questions set, strict marking and inconsiderate grading.

Globally, the results of various academic and professional examinations are reviewed to ensure the normal distribution is attained – meaning everyone does not get to score an A if the exam was easy while not everyone fails if the questions are tough.

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