Fresh candidates were given more time and more marks, while repeaters were given less time and less marks for 33 identical multiple choice questions at the August 2011 Advanced Level (AL) examination Chemistry I paper, said Counsel Senani Dayaratne, appearing for two 2011 A/L examination candidates, at the Supreme Court hearing in the z-score case this week.
He said that despite the University Grants Commission’s claims of equal degree of difficulty, the first timers and repeaters were ex-facie discriminately treated.
He pointed out that the number of multiple choice questions for the old and new syllabi were 60 questions and 50 questions, respectively, although the time given to read and answer the two papers is two hours.
“How on earth do the respondents claim that they have maintained the same degree of difficulty,” he said. The remarks drew a comment from the Chief Justice. “Just think of the agony the students have gone through all those years,” the Chief Justice noted. She said it was difficult to put them into one category, because the time they take to read the paper alone will be different, when there are a different number of questions.
Justice K. Sripavan observed that the difference of one mark could determine whether the applicant enters the Medical faculty or the faculty of Dental Science.
Appearing for 13 petitioners, J.C. Weliamuna P.C., submitted that the Z-score was introduced in 1999-2000, to standardise the results of A/L students who sat the exam in three subjects in the then new syllabus, and the repeaters sat for the old syllabus in four subjects. It was at most a scientific and fair option to select the cream for the universities.
“Since then, there were no changes to the criteria, and students knew how it was calculated,” he said.
Counsel submitted that in 2009, a new syllabus was introduced, and there were two syllabi, the old and the new. Accordingly, students who studied the new syllabus and the repeaters sat two examinations in August 2011.
The results were issued on December 25, 2011. These provisional results were said to be flawed and the respondents, the Minister, the Commissioner General of Examinations (CGE) and the UGC took different positions.
Counsel reiterated that there had been two segments of students, two syllabi, different sets of papers, but the UGC wrongfully considered them as one group, pooled the marks together and calculated a common z-score. He submitted that, only the common aggregate of the same group, e.g. fresh applicants should be used to calculate the z-score. He argued that the UGC had invented a ‘Combined Mean’, which is not scientific, to calculate the Z-score.
Then the UGC appointed a four-member expert committee to look into a method for the UGC to select students for admission to the university after the exam was over.
Counsel submitted that there were two methods; first one is to calculate the z-score of the two segments of students separately, which the committee decided was unacceptable.
The committee had considered the two groups to be equal, on the basis their question papers had the identical degree of difficulty and the same standard.
Quoting an example, he said that in the Combined Mathematics paper, students were supposed to answer six questions under the old syllabus and 12 questions under the new syllabus.
Counsel queried as to how the same degree of difficulty was maintained when the fresh applicants had to answer more questions than the repeaters.
Counsel argued that it could have been the same with the other subjects. He further contended that two unequal groups had been considered as one group and treated equally, in violation of their rights.
The Chief Justice (CJ) queried as to whether the two groups could be equalised when one group has only six questions and the other has 12 questions to answer.
Appearing for the UGC (2nd respondent) Faiz Musthapha P.C., answered in the affirmative. “Yes, if you address the degree of difficulty.”
However, the CJ pointed out that the degree of difficulty is quite subjective. “What is easy for one could be difficult for the others,” she observed.
Prof. R.O. Thattil of the University of Peradeniya, who was instrumental in introducing the Z-score, appearing in person, submitted that the UGC had not thought of any formula beforehand. “Now the committee is experimenting,” he charged.
When asked how he would have calculated the results; “I do it separately,” he said.
CJ: What difficulty is there to determine the z-score separately?
Counsel Musthapha: That will be disadvantages to the repeaters and there will be distortions.
The CJ noted that this issue should have been addressed in 2009. She pointed out that it has been done after the exam.
Counsel Musthapha: CGE had instructed to maintain the same degree of difficulty and standard before the papers were set.
Justice Amaratunga: But there is demonstrated evidence to show that those instructions were not adhered to. The CGE only says he believes that instructions have been followed.
Counsel argued that no system is flawless, and what was selected was less flawed, without departing from the Z-score. He told court that no system is perfect. However, the z-score challenged in this instant, is the most acceptable and lawful solution. “They have looked at both methods. They chose the second formula. The other method is worse. But nothing is flawless.”
They should have had academic discussions. This is the failure on the part of the UGC.
Justice Amaratunga: They slept in 2009. Suddenly they got out of their slumber after the examinations and came out with the formulae.
Senior State Counsel Nerin Pulle, appearing for the CGE and the Higher Education Minister, contended that the entire rights petition revolves round two prayers; i.e. to calculate z-score separately, and create two quotas which is against the line of authorities of the supreme judgments.
The CJ, underscoring the importance to expedite the rights case, noted that Court would deliver its judgment before June 30.
The Bench comprised Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, Justices N.G. Amaratunga and K. Sripavan.
Thirteen petitioners including Visal Bashitha Kaviratne of Walgama, Matara and P.D. Chandana of Panaliya, Polgahawela and the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, cited the CGE, the UGC, the Minister of Education, Prof. R.O. Thattil and the Attorney General (AG) as respondents.
The petitioners complained the application of erroneous and unjustifiable common formula to calculate the Z-score of candidates who sat the 2011 A/L examination under the old and new syllabuses, caused a gross distortion of the examination results.
The petitioners sought to nullify the results issued, and also sought an order to annul calculation of the Z score calculated on a single formula.
J.C. Weliamuna P.C., instructed by Sanjeewa Kaluarchchi appeared for the petitioners.
Faiz Musthapha P.C., with Kushan de Alwis instructed by Thushani Jayawardane appeared for the UGC.
ASG Bimba Thilaratne P.C., with Nerin Pulle, appeared for the CGE, the Minister of Higher Education and the AG.