Education authorities flunk A/Ls

While every other stakeholder bemoans the degradation of the A/L results the powers that
be ‘see no evil’
By Mirudhula Thambiah

Two students from the same school were in tears of joy after receiving their Advanced Level results with the Z-score markings, or the benchmark to gain university entrance. However, both from Al-Asha National school in Kalpitiya, were confused. Tajudeen Fathima Safana, an Arts student, had obtained an Z-score of 1.5127, and was ranked first in the district and seventh islandwide.

Waidu Jafrin Banu, also an Arts student, had an Z-score of 2.1403, and was ranked fourth in the district and 73rd islandwide. Jafrin whose family was driven out by the LTTE in 1990, and since thenhave been living in a refugee camp, is in tears after seeing the results.

There were also students who sat their exams in the Arts stream and received their results in the Maths stream. Such was the muddle the Exams Department has got itself into, in its attempt to speed up the release of the A/L results.

Waidu Jafrin Banu Tajudeen Fathima Safana

Although Education authorities claimed that there were errors only in the computerisation of results for district rankings, there were also errors in the grading, island rankings and sometimes in the Z-scores, which further left the students in a quandary.

Ceylon Teachers Services Union Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe, speaking to the Sunday Times, said that his union totally disagrees with the A/L results released last Sunday, saying, “It has many controversies on subject grading, district rank and other components.”

“The Exams Department claimed that there were errors in the last step, as a result of which the evaluations were corrected. But we think there were errors while computerising results itself, not in the last stage when the results are evaluated,” he added. He also confirmed that he received all kinds of complaints from students depending on the outcome of their A/L results.

“There were two students from the Galle district with the same results in the Arts stream, but with different district ranks, island ranks and Z-score,” he said. A student who sat for European History has not received any grades, but mentioned as ‘Not Finalised’, while another student who sat for Political Science has been declared absent.

Graded Principal’s Trade UnionGeneral Secretary S.U. Kariyawasam said that he went to the Education Department on December 26 for the results but didn’t receive them. “The question schemes of the old syllabus differ from the new. In such a state of affairs, it is unacceptable to combine both syllabuses to calculate the Z-score,” he said.

“On behalf of the union, I appeal to the Exams Department to re-evaluate the A/L results, so that the errors and the controversies can be avoided,” he said. Inter University Student’s Federation Convenor Sanjeewa Bandara said that the mess up in the A/L evaluation is a result of the non-organized education system of the government.

Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena makes a point at a news conference
Two of the many protests that erupted: Ruhuna students hold protest in Matara.

“There has been a series of controversies within the examination systems of our country, and we demand that the Exams Department re-evaluate the entire result,” he added. Commenting on the committee appointed by the President, Mr. Bandara opined that this committee should have been formed earlier, which shows that the President had not considered this issue before. This committee will drag the issue as usual like those appointed before.

Usually, the Exams Department releases the A/L results in November, after the exams are over in August. But this year, as there are students sitting under the old and the new syllabus, it was announced that the results of the A/L evaluation would take more time, and hence a delay in its release.

Principals islandwide claim that much of their time was wasted going to the Education Department for the results sheets on December 26, only to return empty-handed. A teacher from Gampaha, Kalyanaratne Ranasinghe stated that issues surrounding the A/L evaluation have become a widespread national problem. The Commissioner of Examinations is trotting out his usual excuses, while the Minister of Education does not give clear answers to questions raised by various quarters.

“They have combined both new and old syllabus to evaluate the Z-scores, which is the wrong approach, as students who sat under the old syllabus will be at an advantage over those who sat under the new syllabus,” he said. He further explained that it will only be fair if the Z-score is evaluated separately for the old and new syllabus.

He pointed out that the Commissioner of Examinations has called for re-corrections, but re-correction is a normal routine for any examination. “If an underperforming student receives good results due to the computer error, that student will not be applying for re-correction. Therefore, a good, affected student will face an unfair situation,” he said.

He explained that re-corrections will cost Rs. 750 @ Rs. 250 per subject. Hence, a student who cannot afford such an amount will refrain from applying and for no fault of theirs. Therefore, re-corrections should be free of charge.

A parent from Kandy, Renuka Malliyagoda said it is very difficult to accept these A/L results, due to different feedbacks. “The Ministry of Education and related authorities are going about without any concern for the students. They just don’t seem to care for the students, who could turn suicidal,” she added.

However, Higher Education MinistrySecretary Dr. Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne claimed that there was no confusion or chaos in the A/L results. The important thing is the results of the students, particularly the gradings A, B, C, S, F and the Z-score are considered as the most important parts, and both have been evaluated methodically.

He further denied that there was nothing wrong with the grading and the Z-score, the only problem has occurred due to a small technical error in the computer programme and there was a mis-interpretation on the calculation of the district ranking with the old and the new syllabus. He also confirmed that the national rankings were correct, and that the only errors were in the district rankings.

“Errors in the district rankings are minor, due to technical programming. When there is a small error in the computer programme, it gives a completely different result, which is what has happened,” he added.
“As a result, some people who have got higher Z-score have got a lower district ranking than those who have got a lower Z-score. This is the only error that has occurred in the release of the A/L results” Dr. Nawaratne said.

Commenting on the local impact of the issue, Dr. Nawaratne said that there was no scientific or official impact for university entrance, as university entrance is purely based on the Z-score system. But when it comes to the district ranking, the students get assigned guidelines to which university they would be selected and into which course.

“Of course, students could blame computer error for failing the exams, like it was said that the elections were lost due to a computer jilmart,” he said. Meanwhile, he said there will not be any international impact or link to the entire A/L system. All the evaluations and the other operatives are basically perfect.
“The international universities will only consider the grades, the University Grants Commission will examine the Z-score and the district ranking, while the national ranking is evaluated for student purposes,” Dr. Nawaratne added.

He claimed there was an error by a programmer which has resulted in errors in the A/L evaluations.
There will not be any delays in admissions to universities, and it will be in October, like last year.
President Rajapaksa has appointed a four-member committee comprising a retired judge and three vice chancellors to inquire into the A/L results fiasco and suggest recommendations to avoid a repetition in the future.

He said the old syllabus and the new syllabus has now been combined to evaluate the Z-score and avoid unnecessary pitfalls.

According to the statistical technique called pooling, the distribution for old and new syllabus will be evaluated under the pooling system on the basis of combining both. Since there are two syllabuses, there should be a methodology to merge this. The Z-score system is a scientifically proven system and it is a world methodology. A group of professors have evaluated the Z-score system merging both the new and the old syllabus.

Pix by Padma Kumari, Amila Prabodha, Krishan Jayaruk, Saman Kariyawasam and Susantha Liyanawatte

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