ZIMBABWE’S much-vaunted high literacy and excellent pass rates over the years have been built around the systematic manipulation of the grading system to allow low-scoring candidates to achieve distinction grades, past and present examiners with the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) have confirmed.
Various examiners who mark different subjects for Zimsec examinations written by Advanced Level and Ordinary Level candidates told the Zimbabwe Independent that Zimsec is compromising standards by lowering grades for passing to as low as 30% for some subjects, contrary to the popular view that a grade C pass starts with a 50% mark.
“An ‘A’ starts at 56% here. A mark in the forty-something range will give you a B and the C is in the 30 thirty-something range,” said one of the examiners who recently marked an A Level subject in Mutare.
“We have been told by the new subject manager in no uncertain terms that candidates have to pass. The candidates are passing with very high grades because most of the marking restrictions were relaxed, for instance, we are giving them marks for giving an example of a country,” added the examiner.
She said performances in A Level subjects such as Geography, Accounting, Mathematics and Chemistry have been dismally poor over the years, recording a 30% national average.
“Geography, Accounting, Mathematics and Chemistry have been the worst in terms of performance. Candidates in these subjects generally score below 40% in terms of national average,” the examiner said.
Another former A Level History examiner, who has since relocated to neighbouring South Africa, narrated similar experiences involving the tempering with the grading system to suit Zimsec’s pre-determined outcome. “50% was a C. But I am not sure where A and B started,” said the examiner, adding, “Zimsec would vary the grades according to the pass rate.”
“They had a number each year that they wanted to fail or pass. Moderations (of the grades) were made to reach that number.”
The practice is, however, not restricted to A Level examinations as revealed by another former examiner who alluded to the lowering of pass marks to 35% for the O Level English Literature examination, which she marked from 2003 to 2009.
“We only marked the scripts and another team would come in to determine the grades during a process they called the grade review. The national chief examiner would tell us that 35% mark guaranteed a C grade. You required at least 60% to obtain an A while marks within the 45% to 59% range gave a B grade,” said the examiner.
The examiner said there was, however, nothing unusual about having 30% as a pass mark as this is also happening in the South African education system.
“Thirty percent is also a pass in South Africa, although a student cannot be admitted to study a bachelor’s degree. They will have qualified to do a certificate. Universities consider 50%, but then it will depend on your degree and competition of points,” said the examiner, adding that the South African school certificate will show the actual marks obtained by the student.
Zimsec public relations director Nicollete Dlamini did not respond to calls on her mobile phone. She also did not responded to emailed questions sent to her on Tuesday.
Last year the pass rate for O Level students was 30% while the figure was much higher for A’ Level students with an 82% pass rate, while private candidates recorded a 57% pass rate.
Problem subjects like Geography still recorded very low passes with 36% attaining E grade or better. History (98%), Chemistry (74%), Mathematics (68%) and Accounting (58%) fared better after the moderation.