NSC – Why are DBE and UMALUSI not enforcing competency tests for matric markers?

By Minister Debbier Schafer, Western Cape Minister of Education:

As the NSC examinations are due to commence for all learners on Monday, the focus will soon move on to the marking and the results.

Umalusi is the body that is statutorily mandated to quality assure many aspects in education, not least of which is the “quality of learner assessment at exit points” [s16(4)(d) of the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act].  Implicit in that mandate must surely be to ensure that the quality of the matric exam results is comparable across the country.  How else can we be certain that the quality of a matric pass in one province is the same as that in another?

It is well known that in the Western Cape we have conducted competency tests for our matric markers for the last five years, and we have continuously advocated for this to be done across the country.

In 2015 in the Western Cape, we have administered competency tests in the following 11 subjects: Accounting, Business Studies, Consumer Studies, Economics, English Home Language, Geography, History, Life Sciences, Mathematics, Mathematical Literacy and Physical Sciences.

A total of 2 874 markers have already been appointed. Applicants who wrote and passed the competency test in the last two years, did not have to rewrite as the competency test marks are valid for 3 years.

The competency tests not only assess the content knowledge of the subject – they also assess the application of knowledge and skills, their marking abilities and the ability of the applicant to interpret the Grade 12 candidate responses.

In the light of this, there are some important questions that need to be asked.  Firstly, why is it that we remain the only province in the country to conduct these tests?  Second, why does the DBE not insist on this? And thirdly, why is Umalusi not playing a greater role in pushing for this to happen?

Umalusi has in the past been quoted as saying that they were in favour of such tests, which would go a long way in identifying good markers.  I have met with Umalusi during the course of the year, and they advise that this was not an official position of Umalusi, but the views of a previous member.  They placed the ball firmly in the court of the DBE.

On perusing the GENFETQA Act, and the functions of Umalusi, set out in s16(3), the law is clear that they must assure the quality of learner assessment.  Section 16(h) provides that they must also monitor and report to the Minister on the performance of departments of education “and recommend steps to rectify any deficiencies”.

The question that must be asked is, has Umalusi made recommendations to the Minister in respect of competency tests for markers?  If so, when?  And if not, why not?  There is an argument that one can find competent markers without tests.  That may well be so, but on what basis is their competence assessed?  There may be excellent teachers (and markers) who teach in a school with learners facing many issues that affect their performance, so it cannot be to look at their class results only.  There may be teachers who obtain very good results, but most of their learners attend extra lessons.  A test makes it fair for all to be assessed on their own merits.

In terms of s16(5) of the Act, Umalusi must approve the publication of the Matric results under certain conditions, one of which is that the “provider”, ie the education departments, have complied with every other condition determined by the Council” [s16(5)(b)(iv)].  It is surely then within their purview to determine as a condition, if they so wish, that the education departments must implement competency tests for markers.  It appears that Umalusi is passing the buck.

But the Department of Basic Education also needs to answer why they have not taken greater steps to ensure uniformity in the appointment of quality matric markers.  They have shown quite an affection for passing norms and standards on many issues, and even regulating issues such as the Progression Policy, with disastrous consequences, and yet on an issue where they should be driving quality, and where uniformity across the country is completely justified, they have done nothing.

It is now really time for the DBE and the other provinces to answer to why they are not conducting these tests.

A quality education is crucial for young people to maximise their opportunities in life.  It is crucial that the marking of the exams also reflects that quality. Only people who can show that they are able to competently mark can ensure standards are met.  Only when all provinces adhere to the same standards can we really credibly compare their performance against each other.