Skill vs. consistency
Cut-offs may be convenient but not adequate as writing an exam is merely a skill…
“Not good enough” — this is probably how most students feel after obtaining their results in the Class XII exam. With colleges across the country raising the bar for entry, by way of high cut-off marks, hundreds of students are left with the feeling that their performance was not good enough for being admitted to a premier institution.
Academicians such as D. Kumaran of the Department of Education, University of Madras, say that setting high cut-off marks is “unavoidable”. “In today's context, where there is such a huge gap between the number of applicants to a particular course and the number of seats available in it, institutions have little choice,” he says.
Pointing to trends in Tamil Nadu from the 1960s, Dr. Kumaran says that then, anyone scoring above 60 per cent was eligible to apply for professional courses. “They would be selected based on an interview.” Following scepticism about the interview process, some groups insisted that there be more transparency. Interviews were even recorded. “Over the years, there was a need for a more transparent and systematic process of elimination. That is when cut-offs began gaining prominence in our admission system,” he says.
However, cut-offs may not reflect a student's consistency in performance, argue some experts. They often serve as a tool that helps in elimination rather than in selection. How can one final examination alone indicate a student's potential and readiness for a particular course? Are factors such as aptitude, ability, interest in extra-curricular activities and other skills that an examination may not necessarily reflect, adequately accounted for?
According to C. Selvaraj, principal of St. Thomas College of Arts and Science, Chennai, writing an examination is simply a skill. “Not all intelligent students may have it. I have had many good students who had a very good understanding of concepts, but did not like writing the long answers that the examination system expects,” says the former Head of the Economics Department of the Madras Christian College.
Moreover, consistency and ability are matters to be judged over a considerable period of time. S. Muthukumaran, former Vice-Chancellor of Bharathidasan University, Tiruchi, says considering a student's performance over the last four years of schooling, from class IX to XII, is important. “The way some of the syllabi are designed, it is possible to learn Class X content even without attending class IX. In such a scenario, a student's performance over a few years becomes relevant in reflecting his or her degree of consistency,” he notes.
It is also time to reflect on prevalent evaluation and assessment patterns, Dr. Muthukumaran observes. “A good test will clearly point to the differences in students. These days, examination results present a skewed distribution, more towards the pass percentage. In that sense, our evaluation system may not be a true representation of students' knowledge,” he adds.
The culture of such high cut-offs which seem rather unrealistic to many, also has other implications. An institution of higher education is a community. “Resorting to admissions using such cut-offs denies large sections of our student population equity and access to higher education,” says Dr. Selvaraj.
A mixed group of students from varied religious, economic and social backgrounds, and different academic abilities, can add value to the learning experience and facilitate peer learning, he adds. “These high cut-off scores are administratively convenient, but can never be justified academically. We must remember that each student is a human being.”
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