DELHI: Students would have to score more than 100% marks to get the top ‘O’ grade (‘outstanding’) in some subjects under the “relative grading” system introduced in Delhi University’s undergraduate courses as part of the choice-based credit system (CBCS).
This is one of the many bizarre anomalies noticed in the first semester results and confirmed by the university’s exam branch officials. The system was designed by the University Grants Commission to convert absolute marks awarded by examiners into letter grades and grade points, as required by CBCS.
The marks-to-grade conversion was done centrally using UGC-devised formulae. These use the mean score in an exam and fixed multiples of the standard deviation (value changes with paper) to assign score ranges called ‘windows’ to each letter grade (O, A, A+ etc).
For an ‘O,’ a student’s score has to be equal to or greater than the sum of the mean and 2.5 times the standard deviation — a formula that has made ‘O’ unachievable to students of Biomedical Sciences, Biological Sciences and Biochemistry.
Teachers who figured this out believe the problem may extend to other subjects — especially the sciences and less-subscribed optional papers and subjects, as batch-size matters for normalisation.
Since a student’s grade is linked with the performance of examinees across DU and has little left to do with individual performance, the results have led to massive confusion.
“A candidate’s grade depends on the performance of all DU students who took that exam. The minimum passing mark too is decided by the cohort. A standard 40% is meaningless,” said Rup Lal, dean of examinations.
Marksheets state only one grade per paper — exam, practical test and internal assessment taken together. The application form for re-evaluation, however, still demands marks in theory papers. This is adding to the confusion.
Kanika (name changed), a Miranda House physics student has applied for re-evaluation of her calculus paper. Though her best, the subject fetched only a B. “I’m clueless about my performance without marks. Barring a few, our entire batch has Bs. Chemistry students and friends in other colleges have the same problem. We’ll write to the administration,” she says.
Kirori Mal College economics teacher Saumyajit Bhattacharya applied the UGC formulae to a set of 2013 scores in an optional paper studied by 102 students and discovered that an ‘O’ would have required a score of at least 108 and ‘A+,’ of at least 100. For the first-semester CBCS exam, absolute marks, mean and standard deviation values aren’t public.
“I suspect scores corresponding to ‘O’ have crossed 100 for mathematics and economics. Or they’re very high. There’s no ‘O’ in Mathematical Methods, a scoring paper that would help students make up,” says Bhattacharya.
Studying the distribution of grades, Bhattacharya found patterns that would have been impossible before. In KMC’s first-year History class, 49 of 50 students are “outstanding” in one paper and 41 in the other. But in the “scoring” Mathematics stream, there is not a single O-grader. There are a whole lot of Bs, owing, he figures, to the wide range of scores UGC’s formula assigns ‘B’.
Out of a class of 76 students, 42 and 31 got Bs in calculus and algebra, respectively. Five have failed in calculus and three in algebra but they may have actually scored well above 40 in absolute marks.
“Students with 90% may not get A+,” said Bhattacharya. A geography teacher awarded a student 86 in an internal practical exam which, to his surprise, has fetched a B. “It’s an A-grade score,” he felt. Geography is taught in about eight colleges. Such surprises are most likely for subjects with small batches and/or those with high averages and wide variations in scores like the sciences.
Teachers complain this change was introduced “without any discussion”. “Our classrooms are too diverse and teachers have no idea,” said DU executive council member Abha Dev Habib.