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Friday, March 21, 2008

Shocking revelations on KCSE fiasco

We have been asking the question of the validity of the 2007 KCSE results. Now the country is getting revelations of more irregularities. Read on

By Lillian Aluanga

Last year’s Form Four candidates could have another shocker coming their way because the new pecking order drawn by the national examinations body has even more relegations and surprises.

The "slight adjustments" for which Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) recalled the results of 4,438 candidates will see some schools fall back by as many as six slots from the position read by Education minister last month. The shocker awaiting parents and schools is contained in a second quietly revised KNEC list released to a handful of leading players in the education sector. It shows a remarkable decline in the fortunes of some schools that enjoy a national profile.

In some cases, however, some schools could come out better.

In the new list, which has the first 102 names, St Paul Secondary — which was in position 83 in the statement read out by the minister last month — does not feature at all. St Patrick Iten moves up from 82 to 69, while Chemelil Sugar slides from 69 to 74.

In the results released on February 28, Busara was number 40. In the revised ranking, done on March 7, a week after the results were released, Busara drops more than 20 places. As a result of this it loses its place in the top 50 and lands at position 61. In the new ranking, Busara’s performance index drops from 9.4347 to 8.8695.

Kabarak High School has moved from position 51 in the February list to 47.

Although Mangu High School remains at the top even in the new ranking, its performance index shifts slightly from 11.2634 to 11.2097.

But even the idea of a school with more than 100 candidates posting a mean score of 11 has stirred interest.

According to the new list, Loreto High School, Limuru, moves up to position three from four. Precious Blood Riruta, which was ranked third on February 28, is now fourth in the new list.

Maseno School now moves into the top 10 bracket after the revision of the results, up from number 11 nationally.

In the new ranking Sunshine Secondary School exits from its ninth position nationally to 11. Initially placed at position 50 with a mean score of 9.2555, Bura Girls’ High School in Taita Taveta District has moved up to 46.

But even as it shot up, its mean score dropped from 9.2555 in February to 9.1222.

Results recalled

In Taita Taveta District alone, at least 30 out of 43 secondary schools results were recalled.

Seasoned teachers from top performing schools yesterday widely conceded that never in their lifetime had they seen results being recalled or rankings revised.

A section of head teachers and parents angered by the bungled exam results have vowed to go full throttle to get to the bottom of the matter.

The new list was drawn before the constitution of a probe team, to "look into questions and concerns raised over the 2007 results" by Education minister Prof Sam Ongeri this week.

Students of Bahati Girls’ School , Nakuru, celebrated the KCSE results with joy when they were first released. Tables have turned and they have been dropped from position 14 to 17.

"The anomaly experienced in processing the mean grades in this year’s KCSE was highly regretted," said the ministry in an advertisement signed by KNEC chairman Prof Raphael M Munavu.

The ministry maintains the flawed results were as a result of a ‘computer error’, but the problem is limited to mean grade calculation. Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor Prof Olive Mugendi heads the probe team.

The attack on the integrity of Kenya’s exams, curiously in the environment of an equally flawed election process, has already been criticised by school heads. They want an independent body to oversee the remarking.

The minister, however, says the argument "defies logic", because it affects only 0.6 per cent of the candidates who sat the exams.

Some schools have threatened to go to court to seek orders for the review of the original papers written and submitted by candidates.

Parents at Friends School, Kamusinga, where the results of at least 30 students were affected, have set up a committee to draw up a suit. The school registered a massive drop in all subjects and was ranked at position 29. Friends School has been in the top-10 bracket for the past three years.

Maseno School is not celebrating even after moving to position 10. Instead, the school’s board is preparing to go to court and demand a remarking of two subjects.

"It is simply not possible for a school to drop in all subjects at once given that they had the same teachers. We are going to court and want to see the original scripts, the marking and how the averages were arrived at," said a parent at Kamusinga School.

In Maseno, the board detected a pattern where students who got A in English ended up with A- in either Kiswahili or Maths.

Another head teacher from Nyanza Province said exam cheating is on the rise and the ministry’s handling of the issue is disappointing.

"The process of marking exams is clear and rigorous. The manipulation of results could only have been done within KNEC’s higher ranks, long after the examiners had done their work," the principal said.

Cheating rampant

He added: "I have never heard of any place in the world where exam results have been recalled. KNEC has broken the record."

The principal said it was "unusual and has never happened" that in a school with more than 100 candidates, the lowest has a B+.

The law of "natural distribution", the principal said, does not allow for a school with more than 100 candidates to get a mean score of 11.00.

Even more unsettling are unconfirmed reports of the lengths to which some head teachers went in colluding with their students to ensure they were among the top schools.

In one school not more than 30km from Nairobi, several Form Two students are said to have spent a night at a hotel delivering answers to the exam questions.

In yet another school, Form Four students were reportedly asked to buy cell phones, which were to be used to relay answers.

"Exams are the culmination of the whole delivery of learning and teaching. If professionalism isn’t embraced and seen to be practicsed in the way examinations are handled then everything is wasted," says Mr Christopher Khaemba, the outgoing Alliance High School principal.

Results of at least 30 students at the school were affected.

Khaemba said since the ministry had already taken a stand on the issue, an independent commission should be set up to find out what really happened to last year’s examination results, which he describes as "extremely random".

Khaemba points out at several issues that he says are highly unusual of examination results. He cites the example of Limuru Girls’ which has more than 119 A’s in Mathematics and only 19 A’s in English.

"I haven’t seen this before. I don’t know how it is possible for the same students to score that many A’s in Mathematics and perform so poorly in English. After all, girls are known to do well in languages," he said.

Several head teachers in Western and Nyanza provinces are also calling for remarking of the exams to get a true reflection of the results.

A head teacher in western Kenya says most schools in the region were affected. He says something about last year’s exam results does not add up.

He too says the ‘randomness’ in this year’s results says a lot more than meets the eye and that it is misleading to blame the anomalies on a ‘computer error’ alone.

"We have prepared these students for a long time and know what they are capable of doing," he said.

"I have been in this profession for many years and have a general idea of the trends. This year’s results were not reflective of the students abilities and it is clear there was deliberate tampering," he added.

He cited the example of a school, which traditionally has its index 1-10 students scoring straight A’s but had at least five of its top students this year scoring lower grades.

The head teacher is incensed by what he calls the ministry’s "trivialisation" of the issue by saying that the number of students affected was negligible.

"The anomaly should never have happened. The Education minister doesn’t know what he is talking about. He wasn’t even the one in office when all this was happening. How can he possibly explain what happened?" he posed.

"How is it possible that a school shoots up more than 50 places at once? The move is usually progressive, when a school is either coming up or dropping," he says.

The head teacher said more than 20 students in his school were affected by the anomaly. He suggests that examiners should be recalled to cross check last year’s results.

He said concerns raised by some examiners over what they perceived to be cases of cheating were not taken seriously.

"I know there were some examiners who raised concern over cases of cheating that had been detected among some schools but these reports seem to have been ignored," the head teacher says.

"The examiners know which schools cheated. They should be recalled to come and help resolve this issue," he says.

Friends School principal, Mr Simon Nabukhwesi, who is also the Western School Heads Association chairman, says urgent measures must be taken to curb cheating in national examinations.

"Let us have these examination papers coming in complete with pictures of the candidates and details such as the index numbers printed on every page," he says.

This, he says, would reduce cases of having extra copies, which have often found their way into wrong hands.

But even as pressure mounts on the Kenya National Examinations Council over last year’s KCSE results debacle, Prof Ongeri appears to suggest that the matter is being ‘blown out of proportion’.

The minister has already ruled out remarking of the exam saying the number of candidates affected was ‘negligible’.

At least 4,000 out of 276,000 candidates were affected.

"Results released by the minister are always provisional, giving room for correction and complaints within 30 days. We registered a 99.4 per cent success rate. The error did not affect subjects, but aggregates so resitting, remarking or cancelling the examinations is null and void," Ongeri said.

Also adding its voice to the exam results fiasco is the Orange Democratic Movement parliamentary group, which dismissed the team set up by Ongeri to probe the matter.

The parliamentary group said the team cannot be trusted to carry out an inquiry and demanded that an independent body be established to work with the police in getting to the bottom of the matter.

The 15-member team has 18 days to carry out investigations and present the report to Ongeri. KNEC has also given all schools and candidates up to April 30 to raise any other questions associated with the 2007 KCSE results.

Khaemba suggests the establishment of parallel examining bodies of high standing as one way of improving the credibility of national examinations.

"We can have competing examination bodies as is the case in other countries like the UK, where you have exams administered by Oxford or Cambridge, and then allow the schools to choose," he says.

The outgoing head wonders why mock exams done at the district and provincial level do not record glaring irregularities like those seen in the national exam.

"We now have provincial and district examinations being handled better than national one. How is this possible?" Khaemba poses.

"If the Government is willing to spare resources, the remarking can be done. The scripts are still there. All it needs is to set some time aside, say in April, and then remark the exam," he says.