I WRITE in response to the front page article in The National on Feb 20, titled “Selection anomaly”.
In the article, Fr Jan Czuba, the secretary for the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, said a combination of data discrepancies on the online selection process of school leavers had resulted in grade 12 students missing out on places in tertiary institutions.
He said that some information received from the Measurement Services Division (MSD) of the Education Department were incorrect.
His statement prompts me to bring to light practices that have been taking place in the MSD with regards to the data entry of school tests and national exam marks plus the processing of marks of grade 10 and 12 students over the past two to three years.
These practices have compromised the reliability of data collection, data entry and data processing of grade 10 and 12 marks by MSD.
In previous years up until 2016, MSD – as the Division responsible for producing national examinations for grades 8, 10 and 12 – also had the task of collecting test and national exam marks to carry out large-scale assessment for certification and selection purposes.
Raw scores collected from schools were fiercely guarded once they entered the MSD building.
This ensured the final marks processed and grades given were reliable and valid.
MSD has data entry clerks who do the job of entering thousands of test scores in each subject for students in grades 10 and 12 from all permitted and registered schools throughout the country.
After the initial data entry, computer printouts are sent to schools to check for errors, corrections are made and sent back for re-entry.
This process eliminates errors made in the data entry process.
After marking, the national exam scores are also brought in for data entry and computer printouts of exam scores are cross-checked by MSD officers to eliminate errors.
When satisfied that all raw scores for all students are correctly entered, the data is processed giving the final score and grades for each student.
Data entry and processing takes place in the MSD building and nowhere else.
Finally, the completed assessment is given to the Education secretary who signs it to allow MSD to release the results to schools and DHERST for selection purposes.
This stringent process was compromised when a new assistant secretary was appointed to MSD at the end of 2015.
In 2016 he proceeded to drop the contracted computer programmer who designed the LEPARD programme used by MSD for data entry and processing and engaged the private company Digitec to process the raw scores, thus compromising the security surrounding the data MSD is tasked to protect.
Data is now taken out of the MSD building through CDs and flash drives to be processed.
It is not known if all data entries are taking place in the MSD building.
I call on the Education secretary and whichever stakeholders there are in the jurisdiction to investigate the practices and processes currently being employed by MSD to collect, enter and process student marks.
It seems that the validity and reliability of the final marks and grades given to students have been compromised.
The integrity of the assessment process carried out by the Education department is slowly being eroded.