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College Admissions Unfairly Punish Students From Some State Boards

Students from boards that aren’t as lenient as CBSE are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to college admissions.

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The disparity between the marking schemes of CBSE and certain state boards is so high that it creates an unfair playing field for undergraduate college admissions. Even the toppers of some state boards do not have the percentages required to secure admission in the top colleges of, say, Delhi University, which solely consider Class 12 board marks while granting admission.

For example, the students who topped the Assam Higher Secondary boards in 2019 scored 478 out of 500, which translates to 95.6%. Unfortunately, going by 2018’s cutoffs, the Assam toppers’ results would not have been good enough to make it to even the second cutoff for Economics (98.25%) or B.Com (97.375%) at DU’s Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC).
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Students from boards that do not award marks as leniently as the CBSE or ISC, are therefore at a massive disadvantage when it comes to college admissions, for absolutely no fault of their own.

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CBSE Tampering Marks Tilts Balance Further

In 2018, the Uttar Pradesh state board toppers scored 93.2%, an overall percentage not good enough to gain entry into most top-ranked DU colleges. But not all state boards feel the pinch – there are some state boards which are as high-scoring, or even more, than CBSE and ISC.

The feeling of unfairness is exacerbated when students from the state boards realise that despite public assurances from the central government and the CBSE itself, the national board continues to unfairly and unequally tamper students’ marks, as an investigation by The Quint had revealed earlier.

So, what are the multiple problems with the current system of college admissions, and is there a solution in sight?

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Unfair at First Go

The fact that all boards are “treated equally” by Delhi University ends up being a bane rather than a boon. A student’s Class 12 board marks forms the basis for securing admission. Whether the student graduated from the CBSE or a state board does not make a difference as there is no board-wise rationalisation of marks.

For example, the state board in Tamil Nadu, well known for its extremely high scoring results, often disproportionately dominates admissions in top DU colleges.

In 2016, certain courses at SRCC saw 75% to 80% seats going to students from the Tamil Nadu board.

Here’s how this was possible. The cutoff for the Economics course at SRCC was 98.25% and for B.Com (Honours), it was 98%. But the Tamil Nadu board had awarded aggregate scores of 99% and above to a huge number of students, which resulted in them dominating the DU admissions.

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Worsened by Marks Tampering

Students from boards that aren’t as lenient as CBSE are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to college admissions.
HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar had announced that 32 boards had jointly decided to stop the practice of unfairly increasing students’ marks.
(Photo: The Quint)

Since there is no rationalisation of marks from different boards, the admissions process is itself imbalanced. However, it is made far more unequal and biased once the tampering of marks by the CBSE is taken into account.

Just like in 2018, a data-driven investigation by The Quint has shown how the CBSE unequally tampered marks of students who appeared for the Class 12 examinations in 2019.

What’s worse is that this comes after Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar had announced in 2017 that 32 school education boards, including the CBSE and state boards, had taken a joint decision to stop the practice of unfairly increasing students’ marks in order to show higher-scoring results.
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By continuing with a practice that the HRD Minister had himself termed “an illogical menace” that needed to be stopped, the CBSE has disadvantaged students from those state boards that were part of the 2017 consensus and actually followed through with the ‘no moderation’ policy.

The CBSE’s actions and subsequent impunity will also encourage other boards to follow suit on the marks tampering aka unequal moderation route. This is likely to make the marking system of board exams across the country more unfair, creating further inequalities in the process for college admissions.

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Percentiles Not Available

Boards do not declare the results of students as percentiles. Hence, comparing the marks of a student in one board to another student in a second board is akin to comparing apples and oranges.

Rationalisation refers to a process by which the marks awarded by different boards can be brought onto one scale for ease of comparison. However, since precise marks distribution data and percentile scores are typically not available to the universities granting undergraduate admissions, rationalisation of marks is not done.

This is why high-scoring boards such as the Tamil Nadu board, CBSE and ISC are at an advantage compared to boards with stricter marking schemes such as the state boards in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Assam.
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The Possible Solutions

So, what are the possible solutions to reduce the massive discrepancies in the undergraduate admissions process?

Declare Results as Percentiles


First up, in order to bring in some level of parity, the boards can mention the percentile that a student has scored along with or instead of the raw percentage marks.

A student’s percentile indicates the percentage of students who have scored less than or equal to her. For example, if a student scores 99 percentile, it means that 99% of those who took the exams scored less than or equal to that particular student.

Let us take the example of the Assam toppers in 2019. Though their percentage scores are 95.6%, their percentiles would be around the 99 mark. This would therefore bring them on a comparatively more level playing field than before.

Though it’s better than the current procedure in place, the system of using percentiles is not a perfect one because there will be inherent discrepancies even in comparing percentiles of different boards. However, this system could reduce the present inequalities by a significant amount.

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Entrance Examinations by Universities

Another tentative solution that could be worked on is for more universities to conduct entrance examinations for students in their desired field of study. Though there are certain university courses and colleges that do have entrance tests, most places still rely solely on board marks as the determinant for admission.

Since the entrance test for a particular university will be the same for both the Assam board topper and the CBSE topper, their difference in marks in the board exams will not decide the admissions outcome. Instead, the determining factor will be their performance in that particular entrance exam.

The downside of such a model is that not only will the number of entrance exams that students have to appear for increase drastically, it will also be a cumbersome and resource-intensive process for the colleges and universities as well.

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Enforce the ‘No Moderation’ Policy Assured by the Central Government

Whether or not the percentile system in board marks or the entrance examination model is introduced, one measure that must be taken immediately by the Union HRD Ministry should be to enforce the ‘no moderation’ policy that the central government and 32 school boards had announced in 2017.

The brazen flouting of the 2017 consensus by the CBSE over the last two years has ensured that the process for undergraduate college admissions continues to be extremely biased against students from state boards with stricter marking schemes.

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India’s college admission system is currently broken – and unless concrete steps are taken to fix it, lakhs of students will continue to be disadvantaged every year, with their admissions being affected by the board they graduated high school from.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  CBSE   Economics   Prakash Javadekar 

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