What is the trend?
This year’s CBSE Class XII results have stayed true to a trend of the last several years: a large number of students scoring extremely high marks. Of the 11.07 lakh candidates this year, 72,599 scored 90% or more, a 14.7% increase from the 63,247 of 2017. Among these candidates, 12,737 scored 95% or more, up 7.33% from last year’s 10,091.

Why is it happening?
Over the years, the prevalence of such high marks has given rise to a widespread view that the scores of a number of students are being spiked in the garb of “moderation”, a practice under which a board tweaks the scores of some candidates in order to meet certain stated objectives.

What is the ongoing debate?
Since 2017, education authorities have been hinting at discontinuing the practice. In October, following a report in The Indian Express that several state boards had agreed to do away with spiking of marks, Education Secretary Anil Swarup tweeted, “High time this farce relating to irrational ‘spiking’ of marks is stopped. Glad there is a consensus amongst the states to stop this practice.” And when this year’s results were declared late last month, CBSE officials told journalists that marks had not been moderated — although “grace marks” had been awarded in some cases.

An analyst who has been looking at examination data since 2013, however, is not convinced. Prashant Bhattacharji, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and founder of the online project LearningPoint.net, believes there has been random falsification of marks this year as well as earlier. Analysing scoring trends for three subjects this year, LearningPoint found that 95 was the single most frequent score for mathematics (39,637 out of 5,00,328 students analysed) as well as business studies (20,186 out of total 3,07,327). In accountancy, the distribution of scores peaked in the 45-50 range but there was another peak at 95% — 9,915 out of 3,06,505 analysed

“As there are no exact moderation rules, there is random falsifying of marks, which has also happened this year. This is despite the fact that the Ministry of HRD and the CBSE had said there will be no moderation,” Bhattacharji told The Indian Express.

“So, what they do is they add 14 to 15 marks. For example, if a student has scored 80 marks, an addition of 15 will (make it) 95, and that is what the graph reflects,” he said. “This clearly reflects that spiking is done without any statistical method. Had the marks been maintained as is, the curves would not have looked like it does in the graph and would have reflected a bell-curve formation instead.” In statistics, a bell-shaped curve is taken as reflecting normal distribution.

In 2013, Bhattacharji had analysed the results of 7 lakh students; he said the trend showed an “abnormally large” percentage of students scoring 95% and above. In 2014, when the CBSE released subject-wise details of students who had got merit certificates, the list showed 1,069 students with an perfect 100 in mathematics, and another 321 in business studies. This year, LearningPoint.net also analysed the psychology scores of 17,003 students, and found 826 had scored 100.

CBSE chairperson Anita Karwal did not respond to calls and messages for a comment.

Why moderation is followed?
According to CBSE bylaws, moderation is followed in order to:

  • Compensate candidates for difficulties in solving questions in a specified time due to misinterpretation/ambiguity of questions and errors;
  • To bring uniformity in the evaluation process;
  • Bring parity on account of an element of subjectivity in the evaluation process;
  • Level up the mean achievements in set-wise performance due to differences in difficulty levels of different sets of papers;
  • Maintain near-parity of pass percentage in the current year vis-a-vis preceding years.

Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, a University College London professor and columnist who has frequently written against the way moderation is carried out, described moderation itself as an equitable, rational practice followed across the world. “Moderation, however, does not mean wholesale increase in marks. Depending on the difficulty level of the paper, 1 or 2 marks is added. In case the average percentage of the board is lower, there is some adjustment done, but that doesn’t mean adding as much as 15 and 16 marks,” she said.

If moderation to 95% is inequitable, those who genuinely score 95% can be at a disadvantage. “Suppose the student (whose marks were spiked to 95%) has better marks in another subject as compared to one who has genuinely scored a 95% (in the first subject). His total (the student who really scored a 95%) could end up lower than the one who had actually scored an 80 or an 85,” Kingdon said.

Last year, the board had decided to abandon moderation but had to continue with it after the Delhi High Court called the decision unfair as it was taken shortly before the announcement of results and asked the board why it could not implement the policy from 2018.

(Adapted from The Indian Express)