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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Questions on JEE Changes?

Just a few days ago, I wrote a blog post on whether JEE was going away. I was reading about it in the media, and had not found anything on Ministry's website. But now, it is confirmed that there was indeed a meeting held in January, in which a small group of Directors met the Minister, Dr. Ramasami, a few ministry officials, etc., and in-principle agreed to hold another national level exam, Indian-Sceince-Engineering-Eligibility-Test (ISEET), which along with the board marks will become basis for admission to IITs, NITs, and other centrally funded technical institutes (CFTIs).

What is worrisome about this plan is that not only the stake holders know anything about the test and how board marks will be normalized, even this group does not know how this will be done. So, a decision has been taken to normalize board marks and a deadline has been decided to implement this, without knowing how that normalization will take place. Apparently, there is some proposal in Ramasami report, which it is hoped will be found to work with all boards, etc. But why not make this formula public, and let experts and stake holders also check if this will have any problems. Why this secrecy, secrecy, secrecy di?

It is hoped that the testing of the formula in cooperation with all the boards of the country will be completed by April. But what if the testing reveals a flaw. The students who have been preparing for JEE 2013 will be told in February about the changed system, and again in April that sorry, we are going back to the old system. Why can't the decision wait till that so-called formula has been tested. Why can't it be implemented from 2014. Why this urgency, urgency, urgency di?

There is a hope that all boards will agree to announce their results by beginning of June. Why make a major change in the hope that everything will work out fine. Why not have a dry run this year, ask all the boards to announce the results by 1st June, and see if they actually deliver on their promise. What will happen next year, if a board announces the results after 15th June. How will IITs complete their counseling, and two or three rounds of admission process, within a month. Currently, we complete our admission process in about 7-8 weeks, after JEE result is declared. Remember, the boards are currently required to announce the results only by 30th June.

It is understood that the current system is not working well, and there is a need to encourage students to perform in schools. But, nowhere in the debate, is one mentioning whether there are alternate mechanisms of encouraging performance in schools. For example, many of the stake holders have often argued that school performance should be used as a minimum cut-off. That 60 percent requirement for IIT admission is ridiculous. The only reason for not increasing 60 percent is how to normalize performance across the boards. But, well, if there is a good enough normalization algorithm that these wise men have come up with, and this is so great a mechanism that it can be used as a weight in the admission process, then certainly it is good enough to be used as a cut-off for eligibility.

And using the board marks for eligibility has a significant advantage. Many people have talked about cheating in the board exams. If the marks are used only for eligibility, the incentive for cheating is less, and cheating by even several thousand students does not change eligibility of an honest student. But if the marks are directly going to be used for admission, then every single student who gets high marks based on cheating is affecting the career of a large number of honest students.

The other problem that this exercise is trying to solve is the stress due to multiple exams. But what the wise men have not been able to figure out is that with this change, they are actually making more exams count. Every mark in every subject test of the board exams now count. So are we increasing the number of exams that count, or decreasing the number ?

I find the response of one of the colleagues interesting. We should probably not worry about under-graduate education any more, and put our efforts in improving graduate education, where the interference of the government is less. We should work with the industry to make sure that they prefer our MTechs, and let under-graduate education be a volume game, no worries about quality. Students who are really serious should do an MTech. But then we will only be inviting political interference in our graduate programs.


Vikram said...

I would concur. IIIT Delhi has an 80 % minimum 12th board percentage requirement. That seems about right to me.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

I completely agree with the last paragraph. IITs need to make a tacit deal with the government wherein they provide the government with election points by producing UGs in volume and in exchange get autonomy for salaries, hiring, research grants, administration etc. Many top US universities essentially do this - they give admissions to kids of senators and help them build their profile; in exchange the administration lets them have a free run. If you think about it, there are very few examples of top universities in the world that don't treat UGs as a volume game.

I think IITs have two needless obsessions: one is with UGs. This obsession is not giving the returns they would like - most UGs are using IITs as only a pitstop and increasingly they are less and less grateful to IITs, which will mean lower endowments in the future. The second obsession is with a dream for a utopian government which will support academic research. All governments or society are somewhat suspicious of the true value of academicians. The Indian government is even further behind; it is a pointless battle to convince them of its importance.

Cricketer said...

We should probably not worry about under-graduate education any more, and put our efforts in improving primary school education, where the return of the investment is likely to be more.

Anuj Sood said...

quite a few valid points
i personally had not thought of the cheating factor in board exams which is practically very hard to control.. unless some EC like reforms are implemented!

Chandresh said...

suThe whole debate has been going on without defining the fundamental questions we are seeking answers for. My view is we need to address four issues:
Q1) How to improve quality of board exams?
Q2) How to prevent malpractice in board exams?
Q3) How to reduce stress on 'average' students
Q4) How to get well rounded students into IIT?

The answers can be found in many ways. My suggestions would be:

Q1 : The question setting for all state and central board exams should be done by an independent body, with representation drawn from a wider pool consisting of board representatives, NCERT/IIT/IISER professors and other reputed sources. This will ensure greater credibility for all board exams.

Q2: The conduct of board exams should co-opt independent bodies that can certify the fairness of the process. Invigilators should be drawn from independnt bodies like Election Commission, Auditor General and other sources. The paper correction process will also need to be made malpractice proofed. All possible steps for ensuring end to end transparency should be adopted.

Q3: Once the first two steps are certified as successful, the board marks will be a fair basis for admissions to engineering & medical colleges. Already some states have done away wiyh entrance exams to reduce costs and stress on students. There is no need for any additional entrance exams similar to AIEEE. some form of normalization, like IIM admission process can be adopted or state wise seats can be allotted as per current NIT practice of home state ranking system. Any equitable process is acceptable once the exams become more credible.

Q4: For IITs the current JEE along with a more meaningful cutoff like 70 % or a percentile board marks above 80 could be set as minimum cutoff. Subject wise cutoff for each subject could also be fixed to ensure well rounded students. The current JEE would measure talent while the cutoffs will measure roundedness.

The above are top of the head suggestions. Experts,if they are given a open mandate can come up with much more scientific and data based recommendations.

gautam said...

Please read my comment in the earlier post on this subject.
Gautam Barua IITG Director

Ankur Kulkarni said...

[I posted this reply on the other post; but I realized it might go unnoticed since the post is old]

Thank you Prof Barua. I think this is a well thought out and timely proposal. The reasoning that you presented is also sound and balanced. Instead of endlessly arguing over whether a certain move is ideal, committee has decided to make a move that will have an overall positive effect. That is precisely how policy should be made.

I hope this move is also coupled with other policy changes that will allow coaching classes to rebrand themselves as schools and colleges. There are many positive things about the coaching industry - it is streamlined, it has managed large scale, it is result oriented and it treats its faculty like superstars (something no other educational establishment in India does). Your move effectively channels these qualities to the benefit of students.

I wish the committee the very best.

Shantanu said...

okk .. so what the logic says is that 'coaching' for board examinations makes you Einstein but 'coaching' for JEE makes you a chimpanzee. Exceptional!! ... its like students should join coaching right from Nursery(or Lower U.G.) but India should strictly stop having training camps for Olympiads.

In fact I believe scrapping JEE would have a very very adverse effect on the quality of education in schools. Till now people preparing for JEE (even who couldn't get through it) used to try to attain high standards of problem solving (for JEE and NOT AIEEEE) and hence improved their problem solving skills (by hard work) to quite an exceptional level. This improvement helps students a lot throughout their careers (be it engineering, consultancy, any field). With scrapping of JEE and giving value to board examination results (like CBSE) we are moving towards very fishy grounds. The reason why Indian graduates are preferred in the job industry today is because of their superior problem solving skills as compared to their counterparts in other countries. With scrapping of JEE and lowering in standards of CBSE students would ONLY concentrate on how to get marks and not on the understanding of the subject which was the basic requirement.

@ Prof. Gautam: What makes you think that percentile rank across boards is consistent? What makes you even think that percentile rank within a board would be consistent? Also how will you incorporate for CBSE board's CGPA? Convert that to percentage? But then you would have thousands and thousands of 100 percentilers in India. Also (I am sure you are aware of this) CBSE board answer sheets would be evaluated by the student's school teachers from next year onwards. If I am a minister or a government servant with a powerful position, I WOULD INFLUENCE MY CHILD'S GRADES (very easily possible in the Indian context). I hope the committee's visualization of a school teacher today is not of Balbir Sanhni's movies where the teacher would sacrifice himself for the benefit of the student. How will one counter for that??

gautam said...

One way of calculating percentiles is:
(cℓ+ 0.5ƒi)/N * 100

Where where cℓ is the count of all scores less than the score of interest, ƒi is the frequency of the score of interest, and N is the number of examinees in the sample.

So, if there are "hundreds with 100/100, then the percentile will be averaged out, as shown above.
There is no question of "consistency" in percentiles. It is a mark based on your "RANK" in the board you have appeared in.
If only this is to be used to gain admission into IITs, then the "cutoff" would be about 99.0 (1% of say 15 lakhs will give us the top 15000). So, if all the "toppers" do well in the "test" then the Board marks become a "cut-off". But it gives someone with 95 percentile (about 75000 students having done better than him) a fighting chance of getting in. The only issue here is, that someone will argue that a rank of 100000 in CBSE is better than a rank of 10 in State Board X. There is no answer to such an assertion except to point to the law of large numbers.

Vikram said...

Dr. Barua, I guess one of the main questions (and source of trepidation) is the board exams themselves. The general consensus seems to be that these exams need significant reforms, both from the point of testing children and acting as a discriminant for admission purposes.

Even a lot of states are moving away from using their results and using some kind of JEE like CET exam for engineering and medicine courses. I personally dont think that much can change as far as school attendance is concerned until the performance in the school exams itself is a factor in university admissions. That might be too much for now, but the board exams should be reformed as soon as possible.

gautam said...

Of course, Board exams need reforms. I think making the exams important for admission into IITs and NITs will result in push from society towards reforms.
A number of steps have already been taken: a common syllabus has been agreed to by all the Boards and implementation has started. Boards have agreed to processing results using computers and have agreed to release results early (talks are on as to what is early - We want May 31, but June 15 may be the compromise).
The next step in reforms I feel is that the class XII exams must include what is taught in class XI also (CBSE and many other Boards examine only what is taught in class XII).
We must not underestimate society's ability to force changes. Let us not be overtly pessimistic and dismissive of the functioning of the Boards. When getting a good rank becomes important, people will not allow those in charge to get away with "murder". But we must make society interested in change.

I would also like to say that "gradual" steps may not put enough pressure to bring in changes. We can always take a step backwards if things dont work out. Let us at least try for a significant change (even what we are proposing is a bit mild if you ask me, but we must try and carry all naysayers along).
Gautam Barua.

Shantanu said...

@prof gautam ... you misinterpreted my question. Of course if the group of students to be selected to IITs were ALL from CBSE then your method would have worked. I will explain more clearly. Since you are giving weightage to board marks I am sure you would be giving equal weightage to the toppers of each board. Now say in a hypothetical JEE we only allow students who are appearing for CBSE and ICSE to appear in it (in real JEE situation would be way more complicated). Now in ICSE I would have at most 3-4 toppers (as this is a percentage based system) while CBSE there would be thousand of 10 pointers (CGPA system) and possibly tens of thousands above nine. So in case of CBSE you have more of a discrete distribution while in ICSE you have more of a continuous distribution.
Now if you say that we would give all 10 pointers of CBSE equal marks (in the 40% weightage you discussed) to the 3-4 toppers of ICSE then it doesn't take an Einstein to guess that IITs would be flooded with CBSE board students (assuming performance in the 'aptitude test' would not vary too much, a fair assumption as even that test is being made a cake walk). Now if you say that you would give less marks to ALL CBSE 10 pointers than say ICSE toppers then you would face resistance from CBSE side. Also you cannot give different marks to students who have got the same CGPA. My question was that how will you counter for this situation. Remember here I have considered only two boards, while in the real world you would have more than 30 boards and your 'law of large numbers' which failed the financial markets in 2008 may again come back to fail JEE. BTW law of large numbers work when you assume random distribution from the same 'sample'. This is not what you get in the rural urban divide in India.
In fact the logic that you have given would work exceptionally if I use professor Sanghi's proposal to use boards examinations as a 'border line' rather than a judgement scale. There you can easily normalize across boards but once you start giving weights to board marks it gets very complicated.
Or best way forward is to say that only URBAN class (be honest with ourselves) students would be allowed to give JEE as the proposal of the change would impact the rural class of students the most. Not to say I met many rural class students in IITs with 50% in 10th UP Boards and were exceptional >9.5 in EE, ME in IIT. If you want any proof to as to how urban would be affected you needn't look beyond BITS Pilani and DU.

gautam said...

Why are people not doing their math? Suppose CBSE has 5,00,000 students and 1500 students get a CGPA of 10 (has CBSE started CGPA in class XII? I have not heard of this). Then by the formula I have given, the scores of all 1500 will 99.850. Now suppose ICSE has 50,000 students and 10 guys get the highest mark. Their scores will be 99.990. What difference does this make? Their performance in the test will decide everything. Now a student in CBSE who has 20,000 students above him will have a score of 96. He too has a good chance of getting in by making up these 3.99 marks. So, the Board score becomes like a cut-off, but every rank counts (however little) so you have to work hard to be in the top 5000 rather than the top 20000.
What this scheme will do is: make students work hard to get a very good rank in their Boards, but even if they slip up a little, they can make up in the test. What more can you ask?

Vikram said...

Dr. Barua, thank you for responding. It is heartening (and indeed exciting) to see the boards starting to reform, this will have an impact beyond just the board exams and university admissions. Although, I would still like more deliberations on this issue in the public domain, your responses do shed a lot of light on the matter.

Chandresh said...

Dr. Barua, the objectives of JEE/AIEEE reforms is not clear. Is it to:
- Improve the IIT JEE system of selection?
- Improve the quality of selections to next rung of colleges like NITs?
- Reduce stress on HSC students?
- Improve general quality of High school graduates?
- Reduce the cost burden on parents due to ‘Coaching’ classes?
- Reduce the cost burden on parents due to multiple entrance exams?
- Encourage diversity in IITs?

Each of the above is a desirable objective requiring different interventions. The trouble is that the proposed changes to admission criteria seem to be driven by simplistic magic bullets. By giving weight to board marks, the ill effect of one dimensional coaching will not be cancelled. Reducing the standard of JEE by aligning it with AIEEE or introducing Scholastic Aptitude Testing will not by itself produce more deserving candidates. Both assumptions are flawed. The truth is coaching improves performance in some dimensions while possibly reducing the number of dimensions in the student. Unfortunately, intense coaching will not disappear in any merit based society. It will reappear in new form under the proposed system.

Reducing standards of entrance test or scholastic aptitude testing will also not reduce gaming to beat the system. In fact, simpler tests will only increase the chance of successful gaming. At graduate level, we have seen this in the constant increase of GMAT raw scores. To overcome gaming, GMAT has adaptive testing i.e. the difficulty level of questions increase or decrease depending upon the candidate’s responses to earlier questions.

To cut a long story short, neither is the objective of changing the JEE system clear nor any scientific data shared with the public, quantifying the expected change in profile of students who will be selected under the new system.

In my opinion, it will be better for the central government to disaggregate the problems in the education system and address them directly by devolving resources to the state Education Boards. A portion of the Education Cess can be earmarked for this intervention.

Similarly, identifying and implementing measures for increasing the value added to IIT students during their college tenure will be more productive. The current approach of tinkering with a reasonably robust screening process will at best produce marginal benefit, while at worst create havoc with the system.

Let our best students and institutions become the world’s best and let all other youngsters also benefit from better assessment systems.


gautam said...

Oh how I wish there was a magic wand to decide what to do! No one, I feel, can quantify what the consequences will be. At least those of us involved in this have not done it, and we will not be able to do it. What is the objective of the proposed changes? To "improve matters". Will it meet objective 1 or 2 or 3 or 4? I dont know. I can conjecture what will happen (and I have in my earlier posts) but I may be way off the mark, and what some of you are saying may actually happen. But isn't it worth trying something different? Instead of just tinkering with the exam pattern, the major change this time is to include Board marks in some form in the evaluation process. So the major objective may be stated as "to make Board results more meaningful for entry into professional streams of education". The consequences of doing this is difficult to predict. If things go horrible wrong, to repeat myself, we can always take a step back. "Two steps forward, one step back"? Hope not; forward all the way!
Gautam Barua

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Prof Barua, I agree with what you are saying. Continuing the JEE appears like a good option to many only because it is serving as an idealistic refuge from the terrible XIIth boards (I certainly thought of it this way back when I wrote the JEE). But, as you say, if the JEE is done away with, the pressure on XIIth boards to reform increases.

I do not think doing away with JEE will eliminate coaching. The coaching industry will milk the aptitude test to the hilt.

ksharma said...

When IIT could not trust cities like Kota , Udaipur ,Ajmer for its center to hold JEE from last 15-20 years , how can IITs agree for 40% weight-age of a exam (12th ) which is conducted at every small remote town ,village across the country .