Mon, 12 May 2003

Govt needs to make known criteria for passing exams

Syamsir Alam Center for International Education Universitas Al Azhar Indonesia Jakarta

This year's school final exams may be a decisive moment for the Ministry of National Education in its efforts to improve education in the country. It is reported that the national final examination this month will impose a tougher standard for high schools (SMU), and the same policy will also affect junior high schools (SLTP). Unlike previous exams where almost of all the test-takers could pass, those sitting the May exams may fail if they cannot meet required minimum standards.

Therefore, the country's next graduates, according to the director general of secondary education, Indrajati, will have qualified as either "passing" or merely "completing" school. Only those who pass can pursue a higher education. Other students will be awarded certificates noting their educational accomplishment, which can be used when applying for a job. However, those students who fail will be given a second attempt.

The results of SMU final examinations have been often received with skepticism. People question the criteria for graduating, with many saying it is impossible to get information about an individual student's performance. There are no reports about the knowledge and skills students have acquired. Therefore, the exam results cannot really be used as an indication of a student's academic performance.

The national final exams so far are primarily designed for the purposes of certification or graduation. For this year's exams, while the government is committed to setting up tougher standards, it has yet determined what standard criteria should be used for making graduation decisions.

If the minimum score for graduating students has been set then it should be disseminated to school administrators, parents and other concerned parties.

The government should lay down all procedures related to the final exams and inform concerned parties on why the specific methods were selected. The government should be able to find the right procedure for setting standard scores for graduating students and share this knowledge with all concerned people.

The use of standard scores for graduation can minimize problems with exams and provide a sound theoretical basis for educational decisions. Standard setting is a technique used to determine a passing score for students (test-takers) in a particular test.

To enable examination administrators to make an objective decision criteria should be set before choosing any particular method or technique for that purpose.

Two key issues emerge in establishing the passing standard of exams. First, standard setting involves political as well as psychometric concerns. Second, standard setting is at heart a judgmental operation. Although there are many different procedures for standard setting currently in use, all of them rely at some point on human judgment. Therefore it is better to involve as many people who have expertise in education as possible in the decision-making process.

Even though none of the techniques perfectly fit our situation, we can make some changes and adjustments so that we can resolve the problems of the national final examinations.

Any efforts by the government to improve education should be welcomed, however, it should be done transparently and in cooperation with all concerned parties.