Poor results rooted in weak foundations
The South African matric class of 2016 achieved a pass rate of 72.5%‚ up from 70.7% in the previous year.
10 January 2017 | Education
“Every year there is a big song and dance about the matric exams and if the pass rate went up or down, which province came out on top, etc.,” said Stellenbosch University's Nic Spaull on his website.
However, he suggested, “the root issue is the weak foundations students get in primary schooling”.
“There is ample evidence of this in maths and reading as the foundational bell-weather subjects that pretty much everything else is built on.”
He said that rather than assessing the traditional matric pass rate according to the number of students passing matric, the focus should be on what this rate is relative to the number of students who were in Grade 10, two years ago, and those who were in Grade 2, ten years ago.
“This gives us an idea of how many kids are dropping out along the way and if this is increasing or decreasing over time.”
If this measure was used, there would be a positive indication that indeed this “throughput pass rate” has been steadily increasing.
Standardisation and adjustment
However, it would also show that of the whole cohort, either compared to those who were in Grade 2 or 10 – fewer than half actually pass matric.
“In our system about 60% of South African youth leave the schooling system without any proof of their educational status.”
Spaull said that another issue with the matric pass rate was the processes of standardisation and adjustment.
If the exams are more difficult/easy then quality-assurance body Umalusi is allowed to adjust the marks upwards or downwards by as much as 10%.
“I am quite anxious about the very large adjustments that Umalusi is making, assuming that the tests are getting much more difficult when the most plausible explanation is the inclusion of many more weaker students that typically would have dropped out in the past.”
A possible consequence of this kind of alleged “grade-inflation” was that universities would increase their NSC points entrance criteria, suggested Spaull.
“Universities are likely to feel the brunt of this [mark adjustments] when their first years are not as well-equipped to succeed as their grades seem to indicate.”
The academic also weighed in on the debate about culling – the practice of holding back weaker students from taking their matriculation exams.
“At least part of the reason why the Free State, the Northern Cape and KZN did better in 2016 than in 2015 is that they held back a higher proportion of their Grade 10 and Grade 11 students than the other provinces.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the Department of Basic Education hit out at the DA's claim that weaker pupils were deliberately removed from the schooling system to keep the overall matric pass rate up.
“What makes this claim... disappointing, is that the department has in fact done the exact opposite by progressing learners who have failed the Further Education and Training phase more than once,” it said in a statement.
“So in essence we have pushed an additional 65 673 learners through the system who sat for the November examinations, this at the risk of a drop in the percentage.”
DA MP Gavin Davis said on Friday that “close analysis of the 2016 matric results reveals a very high 'drop-out rate', leading to speculation that some learners may have been 'culled' to inflate the matric pass rate”.
He said the “true” matric pass rate could be only 40.2% if weaker pupils who may have been removed from the system are counted.
According to the department's figures, 1 100 877 pupils enrolled for Grade 10 in 2014, but only 610 178 wrote Grade 12 in 2016, he said in a statement.