Three years on, confusion continues to reign over the SEE letter grade system


The Kathmandu Post

KATHMANDU,  Ranjana Dhital’s daughter Aastha passed her 10th grade exams in 2015. This year, her son Asthik got through the exam. But while Aastha sat for the School Leaving Certificate exams and obtained her grades in percentage points, Asthik took the Secondary Education Exams (SEE) and got his marks in the form of letter grades.

“Besides the difference in their grading systems, I have not found any difference between the two exams,” said Dhital. “I find the whole system rather confusing.”

Two weeks ago, when the SEE results were out, Dhital, like other parents and guardians, was confused, converting her children’s letter grades into percentage points to better understand what the new system meant. But it’s not just parents and guardians, academics who’ve worked in education say that neither the authorities nor the schools really understand the new system—called the letter grading system—introduced in 2016.

“A large number of students, parents and even teachers are still confused about the system, as it was adopted abruptly,” said Sarita Aryal, former vice-chairperson of the Guardians Association Nepal. “None of the agencies concerned has tried to explain things to us.”

Binay Kusiyat, a professor at Tribhuvan University who researches school education, said the confusion persists because the new grading system was adopted without adequate preparation. 

“The same flawed system has continued for the last three years, without any effort to improve it,” he told the Post.  

Grading should be part of a continuous evaluation system which not only tests the knowledge of students but also 
their aptitude, he said. But in Nepal, the year-end evaluation is based on a three-hour examination conducted at the end of the academic year. Without changing the examination pattern, simply adopting a new system is meaningless, say academics.

The letter grades appear to be purely cosmetic if the process of preparing the grades is anything to go by. The marks obtained by the students are placed on a “scale” and then converted into grades with the help of special software, according to examination controller Vishnu Prasad Adhikari. Previously, these marks would’ve been totalled into percentage points. 

When the letter grading system was initially adopted, the grades were divided into nine categories-A+, A, B+, B, C+, C, D, E and N. However, after widespread criticism, the Ministry of Education removed the ‘N’ grade and included a ‘D+’, which also displays how unprepared the government was, say experts. 

While letter grades and percentage points are quite different in principle, ‘A+’ means a student has secured between 90 to 100 marks; ‘A’ between 80 and 89; ‘B+’ between 70 and 79; ‘B between 60 and 69; C+ between 50 and 59; and ‘C’ between 40 and 49. Similarly, students securing between 30 to 39 marks get a ‘D+’ while those scoring between 20 to 29 get ‘D’s. Less than 20 marks gets an ‘E’.

For the new evaluation to work as intended, indicators for every subject need to be defined properly and the examinations modified accordingly, say experts. Teachers should conduct evaluations, which must be part of a continuous assessment. 

“Even if the final SEE examinations are needed, they shouldn’t carry more than 50 percent weightage,” said Kusiyat.
Education commissions in the past had suggested that the government first introduce the letter grade system in the lower grades and only then adopt it for higher classes. 

A panel led by Kedar Bhakta Mathema, former Tribhuvan University vice-chancellor, had suggested using the grading system from the early grades in 2004. The government adopted the system after a decade, but instead, applied it to the grade 10 exams. 
“I have not seen any difference--neither in course material nor in the exam pattern,” said Dhital. “Why just change the result system to confuse people?”