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The case of leaked English paper II and the price for justice

BCSEA’s Decision is Unfair and Unscientific

 

The Bhutan Council for School Examination and Assessment, BCSEA board in its wisdom decided to award English I marks for English II, as the two papers are related.

I believe that this decision is unfair and unscientific for reasons I shall present here. But first, allow me to comment on the information given by the board on this matter. The board mentions that it will take anywhere from about Nu 4-11M to redo the examination. This is a huge range; it’s like saying our population is anywhere between 400, 000 to 1,100,000 (it’s 756,295). This estimate limits us from judging this situation accurately because when we see amount like Nu 11M, we tend to think about how much good we can do to our people out of that money and we may even empathize with their decision.

Moreover, neither an estimate of the number of students who have had access to the leaked questions and hence the extent of leakage has been provided. I believe that attentive citizens can better make judgments if important information as these were provided.

 

Why is BCSEA’s decision unfair and unscientific? 

The board justifies their decision saying that the two papers, English II, and I are closely related and that they have a correlation of 0.7736. In my knowledge, the above correlation isn’t sufficient to award English I marks for English II. In the case of the above two-variable regression, the R-squared, which is the square of the correlation coefficient, is about 0.60. This basically means that 60 percent of the variation is accounted for by the model which implies that 60 percent of a student’s English II marks can be explained by English I marks. This leaves us with 40 percent variability unaccounted for, which in other words means leaving it to random, chance events. From a statistical point of view, 40 percent variability is unacceptable and hence, the board’s decision is scientifically unsound.

Further, when the board says to award English I marks to English II, it eventually comes down to entirely dropping English II marks. This is because, in the class 12 board examination results, only an aggregate English marks is shown and since the marks of English I and II were the same, any combination would yield just one aggregate, that is, English I marks.

 

Here is the Math: 

Let the score in English I be E1, then, the score in English II will be E2 = E1 (by their decision of awarding English I marks for English II).

To obtain an aggregate English marks, let’s give a weight of w for English I and consequently, (1 − w) for English II.

This leads to the aggregate English marks, E being:

E = E1 * w + E2 * (1 − w) = E1w + E1 − E1w
= E1

So, regardless of whether a simple average or a complex weighted average is used, the aggregate English marks will be the marks obtained in English I. This, in effect, is equivalent to simply dropping English II marks out of the BHSEC results, which is crucial in determining scholarship merit ranking.

Now, dropping the English II marks is definitely unfair as a whole. Firstly, it will make this year’s results different in structure from the past years. Secondly, this will be unfair. There will be students who are better at English II than English I. These students will be heavily penalized by this decision of BCSEA. On the other hand, there will be students who are better at English I than English II and these students will enjoy undeserved benefit from this decision. Different students could have different performances in these two English papers because one tests more of the technical aspects such as grammar, language, and composition whereas the other (English II), tests literature out of which 50 percent is seen texts for which some students prepare really hard. And all their hard work goes down the drain because few students cheated and the board took a hard decision, which was unfortunately unfair.

Therefore, the board’s present decision is unscientific and unfair and simply unacceptable.

Here are some alternatives we can explore:

 

Grade English Paper II and Decide 

This solution is the courtesy of Duptho Kinga and Chimi Wangchuk. First, the paper should be graded despite the leak. Then, we can test if the leak did have a statistically significant impact. If there isn’t, we can rely on the statistical science to use this exam as usual for the BHSEC result. The culprits’ attempt did not result in any significant impact and thus, they can be punished separately without compromising justice and hassling the innocent lot besides avoiding further spending. This is akin to removing the bad apples and eating the rest.

In the event that the paper’s leak caused significant impact so as to hinder fairness and justice, we can choose from the next two solutions.

Use marks obtained in Mid-term and Trial Exams

I have thought about this alternative and also saw other people mentioning it. However, this doesn’t seem appropriate, as there is huge chance for moral lapses and favoritism. Furthermore, this will be unfair as the quality of exams may not be uniform throughout, which is necessary for a board exam.

Therefore, if the leak of questions caused significant impact causing unfairness, the only solution to make it right will be to redo the exam.

 

Re-examination 

The only reason to oppose this solution is the cost involved and the burden to students, teachers, and parents. Otherwise, it is the most-fair solution. But, in the event that the leak made the examination unfair and the result unreliable, the only right thing will be to redo the examination, despite the cost and burden. To put things into perspective, the net cost of re-examination comes to Nu1, 000 a student, even using the upper limit of their estimate. Comparing this to the 40 percent randomness and complete omission of the English II scores, it is a worth- while expense for the 11,000 students.

We don’t let criminals walk away with their wrong doings just because it’s too expensive to render justice. Similarly here, we cannot just take an easy decision because it cost a lot and require us to work harder. We cannot compromise the fairness and justice of our system and expose meritocracy to randomness.

 

Conclusion: The Way Forward

After analyzing the above options, I think it is necessary to grade the examination for English paper II and determine the impact of the leak. If there is no evidence that the leak caused significant impact so as to compromise the validity of the exam score, we could use them as usual and fix accountability on the culprits as necessary. Otherwise, we must redo the examination if we are to maintain fairness and quality in our examination system.

 

Looking at the Brighter Side 

Despite this unfortunate event, I would like to commend our students, teachers, and the BCSEA, perhaps excluding the culprits, for their hard work and plead the BCSEA to reconsider their decision. I think we should take this as an opportunity to improve and make full accommodations so as to prevent any sort of lapses such as this in the future.

Contributed by Tandin Dorji

Tandin Dorji is an undergraduate studying Actuarial Science in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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