Matric pass rate set to drop

Johannesburg - The matric pass rate is set to drop for the first time in five years, according to the man responsible for exam quality control. Professor John Volmink, the head of the council of standards body Umalusi, told City Press in an interview he expects the pass rate to drop between 3% and 5%.

City Press reports that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will host a briefing on Monday, at which she’ll announce the overall pass rate for the matric class of 2014.

The national pass rate has climbed steadily from 60.6% in 2009, soaring from 73.9% in 2012 to an all-time post-1994 high of 78.2% last year.

But instead of breaking the 80% barrier in 2014, Volmink believes we’ll see a dip.

“Making use of the raw scores that are 75% of the total mark, excluding the continuous assessment that happens at school, which counts for 25%, I can venture a guess based on my experience that the national results will be down by 3% to 5% compared with last year,” said Volmink.

As the quality assurer, it’s Umalusi’s job to moderate and approve exam papers. It also monitors the exams, verifies the marking process and makes sure the final results are statistically moderated.

Volmink first served as the chair of the Umalusi council from 2006 to 2010, and was then appointed by Motshekga as the chief executive of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit.

He returned to Umalusi in June 2014. Basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said City Press’s report was “speculative”

and refused to answer any questions about the 2014 results until Motshekga delivers her speech tomorrow evening.

Nicholas Spaull, an education researcher and lecturer at Stellenbosch University, said Volmink’s were “the most informed predictions we are likely to get before the actual release [of the results on Monday]”.

Volmink attributed his predicted dip to:

- A failure rate of 48% (without adjustments) in maths literacy, compared with 20% in 2013;

-  A drop of between 5% and 6% in the pass rate for mathematics and physical science; and

- What he said was a worrying drop in home language pass rates, including English.

English as a home language was taken by 105 000 pupils, but Volmink said more failed this year than in 2013. Although 432 797 pupils took English as a first additional language, their scores were not adjusted and the failure rate is slightly higher than last year.

In 2009, it became mandatory for every matric pupil to take mathematics or maths literacy. The latter has always been seen as an easier option – but, according to Volmink, it was tougher than mathematics in 2014.

He said understanding maths in context, which is the aim of maths literacy, is much more important than understanding algebra. “Maths literacy is potentially a very powerful subject.”

Umalusi and the department were expecting a dip in maths results because of changes in the curriculum during 2014.

There was a huge section in the 2014 exams that was not previously in the curriculum.

“We had Euclidean geometry and probabilities, which are conceptually hard,” Volmink said.

“There will be more people failing mathematics this year, but we had a lot more passing with A’s, so we had to bring it down to the five-year standard.

“Mathematics was adjusted downwards for the top pupils. Maths literacy was adjusted upwards.”

“The home languages also saw a decrease in the pass rate – and if you fail the home language, you fail,” Volmink said.

“For English home language, we had an increase in the failure rate.

“We made a small upward adjustment because the failure rate was significantly higher than previous years, but it is still down from last year.”

Volmink said the 2014 results could have been worse, but praised interventions by the basic education department, which he said helped arrest further decline.

These included teacher workshops run by provincial and national departments; and holiday and weekend camps, which were designed to give pupils extra teaching time.

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