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This article is taken from the April 2000 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Access, selection and admission to Higher Education: Maximising the use of the school-leaving examination

Matthew Smith, in conjunction with Nan Yeld and Peter Dawes at the University of Cape Town, recently published an article in the South African Journal of Higher Education (vol.13 no. 3, 97-104) based on their ongoing research to find ways to increase equitable access to institutions of higher education in South Africa.

The article discusses a particular component of this research which aims to find a reliable means of selection to Higher Education (HE) that (i) maximises the use of the school-leaving examination rather than undermines it, (ii) effectively widens access for historically disadvantaged students, and (iii) is cost-effective and logistically manageable.

There are many reasons for the study. Essentially, they can be grouped into three categories: the need to increase the participation rates of black South Africans in HE, which of course includes technikons as well as universities; changes in the school-leaving examination system; and the fact that, for the majority of students in secondary schools, conditions remain much as they were in the past (that is to say, schooling is still very unequal, which means that black pupils in particular study under very unfavourable and disadvantaging conditions, and are thus at a disadvantage when it comes to selection for HE.

The Place-On- Examination Indicator (PoE)

It is the aim of this study to demonstrate how the school leaving examination can yield a useful indicator that has until now not been used by HE institutions in the selection of students. The procedure that is proposed uses the aggregate school-leaving examination score obtained by each individual (the raw total of all the marks for all her/his subjects) at a particular school to derive a rank for that school, and assigns an indicator (expressed as a percentile) to each individual which reveals her/his place on that rank (i.e. in that class) for that exam. We have called this indicator the place-on-exam (PoE) indicator.

To calculate place-on-exam, the raw school-leaving examination aggregate of every student in every school-leaving examination class in various examination authorities, for the school-leaving examination year is calculated. Once the data is sorted, the actual calculation of the PoE is relatively simple. It involves sorting the matriculants by Exam Centre number and total marks within exam centre, and then allocating a position number to them. From there it is a simple matter to calculate the percentile representing the position, based on the total number of candidates in the centre.

Such an indicator clearly has a number of advantages. First, it protects individuals from being victims of circumstance, in that their performance is assessed only in comparison with those who have had similar educational opportunities. Second, it functions as an indicator of relative merit which is independent of vagaries in the school-leaving examination system. A third major advantage of the PoE indicator is the ease of its use by institutions.

The results of this study suggests the following:

  • Calculating a place-on-exam indicator is worthwhile for each student, as it allows the admissions officer to make better choices about students especially border line candidates. To facilitate this process PoE should be calculated centrally, before the results are distributed nationally.
  • Students who are placed in the top decile of their matriculation class are likely to succeed at university.
  • The data collected in this study should continue to be updated to establish the relationship between place-on-exam and graduation.
  • Further investigation needs to be undertaken to establish how place-on-exam can be used in combination with school-leaving examination results.

     

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