Storm Over KCPE Marks as Private Schools Reject Results

A storm is brewing over the marks awarded to learners in private schools three weeks after the release of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results.

Private schools have mounted pressure on the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) to explain the scores, which the schools believe disadvantaged their learners.

They argue that the poor marks were not consistent with the previous performances, even if the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted learning.

This as it emerged that some candidates in private schools are undergoing counselling because the grades they posted did not reflect their potential, according to some school managers.

At the centre of the complaint is how marks were standardised by Knec, a move that is now threatening to split the national association of the private schools.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said each student got the marks they deserve.

“I am impressed that public schools have shone in the 2020 KCPE, scooping 10 of the top 15 overall slots in the examination,” said Magoha.

But, while one faction of the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) defended performance of their candidates, another argued that results by learners from private schools was not a true reflection of their marks.

“Private schools also dominated top mean scores in almost all the counties the association interrogated,” said Peter Ndoro, KPSA chief executive.

However, this statement irked some members of the association.

“The association speaks for us and they did not capture our concerns,” said John Mwai, former KPSA chair.

According to Knec, standardisation is a process that involves adjusting the raw marks for each paper in the examination to allow for differences in difficulty and in the extent to which marks scatter.

“In this process of standardisation, the difficulty among the papers is measured in terms of mean raw marks scored by all candidates, while the differences in scatter are measured in terms of standard deviation,” reads the Knec statement.

The exams body explains that the process entails converting the raw marks of each paper in the KCPE examination so that the mean and standard deviation of each of the papers are identical.

“For KCPE examination, the mean expected of a normal distribution is 50 and the standard deviation is 15,” reads the Knec statement.

Further, the examination council explained that the process is important when results from different papers must be combined to give overall total.

“Once the raw marks have been standardised, the cut-off points for all grades are identical for all subjects and are therefore maintained at the same level from year to year,” reads the Knec statement.

The agency says the standardised scores are then used for reporting candidates’ performance and for selection purposes.

Position of candidates

“When the scores are standardised the relative positions of the candidates remain unchanged; the top candidates in each subject still remains at the top,” reads the Knec statement.

Mwai, however, said the standardisation process and moderation tools applied for KCPE 2020 greatly disadvantaged candidates who sat the exams in private centres.

“Private schools, teachers, parents and candidates are demanding that Knec furnishes all schools in Kenya with the raw marks for KCPE 2020 candidates before standardisation was applied. Otherwise, the credibility of Knec to fairly administer the exams is now at stake,” said Mwai, while speaking in Kirinyaga.

But, Ndoro absolved Knec from any blame, saying examination standardisation was a process that very few people understand. He said the standardisation was not selective as it is applied to all candidates who sit the same exam without exception.

“The answer is simple; a majority
of the candidates did not perform very well in the raw scores which affected the mean for the raw marks that was used in the standardisation formula,” said the KPSA chairman.

Last week, directors of private schools from Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Mombasa, Kilifi, Machakos, Lamu, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Meru, Kajiado and Nairobi demanded the disclosure of the raw results before they were subjected to standardisation.

The directors also want the process of standardisation and moderation of the examinations disclosed to Kenyans to calm down growing anxiety.

The Standard established that more directors of private schools from various counties are scheduled to make similar statements, poking holes into the statements by KPSA and Knec.

Wesaya Maina, an education expert, faulted Knec for not properly explaining to Kenyans the key concepts in examination moderation and standardisation.

“There are half-truths doing rounds about exam standardisation and moderation. Everyone is trying to guess the procedure,” said Maina.

The standardisation debate has now split KPSA members, with immediate former chairperson of the body sharply differing with the present office holders.

David Kariithi, Kirinyaga County KPSA chairman and Solomon Munene, a member of KPSA, said their sentiments are shared by many private institutions across the country.

“The standardisation should be fair to all candidates and Knec should immediately furnish all schools with the standardisation report applied in KCPE 2020 alongside the raw marks,” reads the statement.

Similar sentiments were made by Omari Mbuli, who spoke on behalf of private school directors from Coastal region counties.

Analysis of the results show that only five candidates from private schools made it to the top 15 bracket nationally, signaling a shift in scores compared to previous grades.

In results of the previous years, candidates in private schools dominated the top 10 charts, with public schools sometimes missing out or registering dismal grades.

Making reference to this trend, private schools’ directors and other interested parties called for further interrogation of the marks.

Data presented by the private schools show in the 2016 results, only three candidates from public schools appeared among top 15 list. In 2017, only four candidates from public schools appeared under the top 15 category.

And in 2018, only two candidates from public schools were listed among the top 15. Last year, five candidates from public schools appeared among the top 15 best performers.

In the 2019 exams, of the 30 best performing schools, only four public ones produced top candidates.

However, in the 2020 KCPE results recently released, none of these schools produced a candidate in the top 15 category.

The flare-up by some of the private schools are a culmination of grumblings that have been simmering since the results were released.

The directors of private schools now argue that their learners did well in the Monitoring Learner Progress assessments, which were administered just after schools opened.

“How then did the KCPE results tilt in favour of candidates from public schools and only negatively affected candidates from private schools?” reads the joint statement.

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