Sunday 30 August 2015

A Critical Note on Ambiguities and Anomalies in CBCS guidelines (14/08/15) issued by DU on Grading System

(Prepared by Saumyajit Bhattacharya, Assoc. Professor, Economics, Kirori Mal College)

Before we discuss how DU has implemented the grading system let us understand the professed advantages (advocated by supporters) of the grade based assessment system over the conventional marks based assessment system.
a) Grading considerably reduces inter and intra examiner’s variability in marking. The same answer particularly in subjective papers may get even 10% (or more) variation in marks. For example, examiners may give anything between 15 to 18 in a 20 marks question for an excellent answer, according to one’s predilection. However, while grading one is most likely to give A plus.

b) Often these marks differences get cumulated for individual students in a biased manner (that is the variations don’t necessarily cancel out) and substantial differences may appear between two students with similar potential and performance in their final result depending on which set of examiners corrected their papers. Putting students of similar performance in same assessment bands (grades) minimizes these aberrations in assessment techniques.

c) This becomes particularly pronounced in cases where students opt for different electives, some of which are supposed to be more scoring than the others. It has generally been observed that science courses (or even economics) have much higher average marks than humanities courses and in a situation where students can opt from a range of courses variability in marks can itself become a basis of choice of an optional subject. The grading system avoids such perversity in choice of course because now irrespective of the nature of the course an excellent answer gets A plus, a very good one A and so on.

d) Grading system also reduces undesired and unsound comparison of small difference of marks and also unhealthy competition regarding that.
However, the grading system can be implemented in two different ways. An ideal one removes any marking scheme and each answer is graded rather than marked. This is particularly relevant for subjective papers. Alternatively there can be a partial grading system where even if answers are marked, the total marks in the paper is converted to a grade and what is most pertinent here is the students get a grade for the paper and not marks (i.e. the marks that constituted the grade is not revealed to the student). Whereas the issues relating to point a above is not taken care in this scheme, the issues relating to point d or even point c (if a scaling is done) get taken care of in this partial grading system.

However, what DU has implemented is a marks system cursorily dressed up as a grading system. Whereas it may appear that DU has chosen variant 2 actually neither of the two variants of grading system has been implemented. The basic understanding that is there behind any CGPA grading system has been completely jettisoned. Let us examine what DU’s so called grading system entails:

All papers are to be marked in 100 (75+25) and the passing marks remains 40. These marks will show up in the student’s marks statement. Because the passing criterion is based on marks it seems (though it is unclear) that two parallel evaluation records – a marks statement and a grade statement will be issued to a student after every semester (and a consolidated one at the end). So irrespective of whether two students get the same grade in a semester, they can and will be compared according to their marks difference, defeating the very purpose of the grading system.
More pertinently, the guidelines are entirely silent on how marks are to be translated into grades. Whereas a table has been provided to indicate how letter grades are to be translated to grade points, there is no mention how marks are to be transformed into letter grades. This is a gross neglect as evaluation will take place entirely in marks.

Curiously the grade points stop at 4 (P - the passing grade point). Anybody who fails gets 0 grade point. This can cause a serious anomaly, given the annual passing rules based on marks. Consider the following situation: Suppose a student has 8 papers in a year spread over two semesters. The promotion rules are that if the student gets an overall 40% in all papers together (separately in theory and practicals) he is promoted to the next year.
So for example a student who gets 38/100 in 7 papers and 54/100 in one, gets 320/800 and therefore she passes and gets promoted according to this rule. However her letter grade will be F and grade point zero in seven papers and she may get B (we are not sure because there is no marks to grades table provided) in the other. Her cumulative grade point will therefore be [(0*7)+(6*1)]/8]= 0.75, which is much below the passing grade point 4.
Consider another example a student fails to secure 40% in 3 papers and gets 35, 37, 38 but she gets 40, 40, 40, 45, 46 in the other five. Her overall marks are 321 and she passes. But the grade points will be 0,0,0,4,4,4,5,5. So the CGPA (assuming equal weights) will be 22/8 = 2.75 i.e. Fail – because it is less than 4.

This serious anomaly occurs because the grade points stop arbitrarily at 4. When marks are to be translated to grades students who have obtained say 30% or 20% cannot be given 0 grade point. They should get 3 or 2 or something akin to this. Further and more importantly this anomaly may not vanish even with this. In marginal cases the mismatch between grading pass point (4) and marks passing score 40% may arise. Therefore it is necessary to have passing criterion entirely in grade points (and not in marks percentage) in a grading system. The students should only obtain grades in each paper (and not marks), however these grades are arrived at in the evaluation stage.

A further ambiguity in the guidelines is about the passing rules itself.
Rule 12 (1) (a) states that "If a student has secured an aggregate of minimum 40% marks taking together all the papers in theory examination (including internal assessment/project, wherever applicable) and Practical exam separately, till the end of the third year, i.e. upto the end of the VIth Semester, then she/he shall be awarded the degree in which the student has been admitted."

So here it appears that the student needs to get 40% in aggregate (not in each paper) at the end of her programme (overall in all the six semesters) to get a degree.
But Rule 12 (3) (a) states: "A student who passes all the papers from Semester I to Semester VI examinations will be eligible for the degree."
Here it appears that the student has to pass all the papers. This is a direct contradiction with Rule 12 (1) (a) above.

A further problem arises due to dual nature of assessment (marks and grades). Since each paper is 100 marks, how are 6 credit papers going to be differentiated from 4 credit ones in terms of overall marks. This is easily done in terms of CGPA. But in terms of marks are we supposed to multiply the marks obtained in these papers by 6 or 4 respectively. This was earlier done by variations in total marks (50 0r 100 marks papers). Now because all papers are out of 100, multiplication should be the only way out. Otherwise there will be an anomaly in calculating there overall percentage. This means a student securing 70 in a 100 marks 6 credit paper should be recorded as having scored 420/600 and correspondingly 280/400 in a 4 credit one. The total for each student should be aggregated similarly and this will imply that the maximum aggregate will be 19600 !!! It is of course feasible, but does it make sense to do this? Anyway, the University guidelines are totally silent about this.

It is also pertinent to note that the guidelines nowhere state the internal component of the internal assessments. Two different variants are in place in the current 2nd and 3rd years and we are not sure which one are we to follow for the 1st year batch.

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