Hidden Cost of Grade Mania

Dr. Mir Obaidur Rahman

17th May, 2018 12:48:49 printer

Hidden Cost of Grade Mania

Student learning assessment is a delicate multidimensional job. It is at the end of the learning ladder that starts with the fundamental objectives of learning.

The way students were evaluated four or five decades back was quite different in comparison to today’s world. Students were evaluated according to three distinct layers such as First Division, Second Division and Third division. A student should get on average at least 60 per cent mark to earn the First division, 45 per cent marks for the Second Division. The pass marks was 33 per cent. A student who gets above eighty per cent marks is awarded distinction in that subject. It was considered as an honour for a student to get First Division and even in early seventies, any students who has two first divisions in both Secondary and Higher Secondary Examinations could get admission according to his preference in any academic institutions in Bangladesh. There were no admission test but in a few cases, the students needed to attend a viva-voce test.

The situation is now quite different. Students with even GPA-5 in both the exams move from one university to another for admission test but seldom get the favourite subjects to pursue higher education and in many cases need to defer his admission for the next year. Students those are in a position to afford expensive higher education in private universities get admitted in those institutions - thanks there are over 60 private universities all over Bangladesh. Indeed, the massive dialectical change in education scenario in Bangladesh in three decades sheds a negative colour on the qualitative dimension in our education spectrum.

Consider the recent result of the Secondary School Certificate Examination conducted by ten educational boards all over the Bangladesh. When you review the results of the secondary school and higher secondary examination for the last few years, you would see an increase in the number of students with GPA-5 scorer. Though this year percentage of Secondary School pass students drops by 2.58 per cent from the previous year’s percentage points of 80.25 percent, the number of GPA-5 scorers increased to 1, 10,629 from 1,04,761 in 2017. The number of institutions where none could qualify was 93 in the last year but sixteen more institutions are added in this list in this year. The number of such institutions is now 109. Again, a total of 1,574 institutions achieved 100 per cent pass this year while the number was 2,266 previously. 

There are many subtle issues related to this GPA-based student learning assessment mechanism. First, all the students with GPA-5 may not get admission in XI grade in their preferred colleges because the total number of seats available in two hundred renowned colleges all over the country is 50,000 to 60,000. Secondly, that none could qualify in 109 institutions represents wastage of academic resources. This is an indication of lopsided development both on the quality of students and the quality of instructors. Thirdly, about 700 institutions failed to maintain their previous academic standard. Fourthly, academic achievement measured in excellent grade does not match with the students’ performance in real world job environment and in future academic pursuit. This is the prevailing scenario not only in the Higher Secondary level but in the tertiary level of education.

It is a common perception that quality of education at all levels has deteriorated. This is evident when students with very good GPA fails to qualify in admission test in reputed academic institutions and very often students admitted in tertiary educational institutions lack skills in communication and understanding. They are more accustomed to stereo-typed learning in higher seats of learning. It is common practice that students are more interested in the type of questions that instructors would set in the examinations and even prefer that they should learn a-priori the exact answer of the question to get good grade.  Unfortunately, there were question banks for many subjects in Bangladesh and students get many questions from those question banks.

The developed world follows Grade based assessment criteria. The practice is absolutely micro by nature. Except a very few minor instructors, most instructors exercise honest and ethical freedom in assigning grade in the United States and Canada. There are lots of criteria that the instructor follows in assigning grade. Instructors at reputed tertiary level education in Bangladesh follows certain prescribed norm to assign grade. However, assigning grade in a public education system is fraught with certain problems. Many countries in the western world do not have organisations to conduct public education system though they offer broad policy guideline. Many private sector agencies such as Educational Testing Service at Princeton, USA conduct worldwide public exam such as Graduate Record Examination [GRE] but the institute publishes the result on a percentile basis. The percentile basis of grading is very sound since it exactly tells your position/standing among the whole lot of examinees. Students in 85 percentile ranks   know that he/she is among the top 15 per cent of the students. So if there were 200 students, he/she is among the first 30 students.  This assessment is more accurate to find the relative position in a macro environment that could minimise some of the hurdles. Nevertheless, the quality of the education in the whole exercise is still a riddle. It depends on the nature of the questions.

Students are more fascinated with Grade in Bangladesh but the authorities absolutely fail to comprehend that this Grade-based performance depends on rote learning and is devoid of any cognitive skills. There are six elements of cognitive domain in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  It is true that many students with GPA-5 cannot master the lower-level learning that comprises remembering, understanding and applying not to mention the higher order learning that requires the skill of analysis and innovation. Students cannot perceive the link between different elements in any analysis and rely on memorising to answer the question. This practice is being facilitated by the unabated streams of question leakage of public examination system and the dole students get from the coaching centres and the guide books. This whole episode downgrades the quality of education. Teaching should be classroom based that puts emphasis on learning the skills to stitch the different elements so that they are in a position to create new product or ideas.  


The writer is a professor of economics a United International University.