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Govt changes O-level grading system

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Uneb Executive Director Daniel Odongo during an interview at his office in Ntinda, Kampala, in 2022. PHOTO/FILE

The Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) has under the new competency-based curriculum introduced a new grading system for Senior Four candidates to replace the existing one.

Mr Dan Odongo, the executive director of Uneb, said in an interview at his office in Kyambogo, a Kampala suburb, on Monday that the new method of evaluating O-Level finalists starts this year.

The national examinations body will going forward assign Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examination scores using an alphabetical format to substitute the numerical distinction, credit, pass and failure ranking.

“The new curriculum is going to recognise competencies and we are going to grade candidates using the letter grades; A, B, C, D, and E,” Mr Odongo said.

“Each letter grade will correspond to a particular level of achievement of that particular competence,” he said in reference to the new marking guide where scores in national examination will constitute 80 percent of the final mark, while continuous assessment will account for 20 percent.

The cumulative mark is year-on-year computation by schools of individual student’s performance in practical projects, which are filed with Uneb on annual basis, as evidence the learners have gained hands-on life skills.

The changes left open the question of how the criteria hitherto in use for admission of new students to A-Level, vocational and tertiary institutions and universities would be affected.

It is not clear whether higher secondary school education, trainings at tertiary institutions and teachings at universities will consequently be revised to integrate skill-based scoring along the format that Uneb is introducing.

There are also unanswered questions on how the changed grading system will affect the consideration of Ugandan students who apply to continue with their studies outside the country. 

Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) executive director Dan Odongo, Minister of Education and sports minister Janet Museveni and the board chairperson Prof Celestino Obua pose for a photo during the release of UCE exams at State Lodge, Nakasero on February 15, 2024. PHOTO/ FRANK BAGUMA

Under the system being phased out, subjects that candidates took in final examinations were each marked out of 100 percent and the scores computed in bands to match, in descending order, distinctions 1 and 2, credits 3, 4, 5 and 6, and passes 7 and 8.

An F9 score, the worst score, was rated failure, meaning a candidate obtaining the grade lacked potential to progress studying the particular subject(s).

The scores were then aggregated and ranked to place the O-Level leavers in Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4 or failed. The final ranking would determine if a candidate progressed, repeated or dropped out, with certificates of completion issued to all except those marked to have failed.

Citing the competence evaluation under the new curriculum, the national examiner says this format of scoring O-Level leavers was unfair because it narrowly concentrated on performance only in final papers and did not take care of overall skills a learner obtained during the four years of schooling.

As a result, under the new grading system, Uneb will show the alphabetical scores on the front of the certificate and detail corresponding actual skills on the back of the document.  

The Senior Four alumni will also be issued a separate certificate for project work.

“[The existing grading system] is going to stop,” Uneb’s Odongo said. 

He added: “There will be no failures [under the new grading system]. You don’t walk out with nothing. Even grade E, which is the lowest, will describe the competencies a candidate has been able to acquire.”

The government introduced the current competency-based curriculum in 2020 amid turbulence of Covid-19 pandemic disruptions and lack of instructional materials across most schools to implement it.

According to the national examiner, some 370,685 pioneer students have registered to take UCE final papers under the new curriculum this year.

There are slightly more female candidates than males, according to our analysis of the statistics, and 9,250 of the candidates will be the last batch taking O-Level examinations under the old curriculum.

These include repeaters, those who registered or failed to register after attending Senior Four classes in 2023 or individuals making a comeback to improve their scores.

Prossy Ankunda, a Senior 4 candidate of Kololo SSS (standing) in Kampala, leads fellow students in prayer before they sat for the Maths exam on October 17, 2022. PHOTO | STEPHEN OTAGE

Uneb said it is still engaging with stakeholders to assess the overall impact of the changes in delivery of higher education in the country.

In the Monday interview, Executive Director Odongo said result slips to be issued to candidates under the new curriculum will be detailed, outlining scores in the end-of-cycle examination and the continuous assessment alongside a description of what the rankings mean.

“The certificate will show you that in Mathematics, you have an A, English Language, you have a C, or whatever and then on the reverse side of the certificate, we shall have the descriptor. If somebody has an A, what is that candidate able to do? So, that is how the certificates will look like,” he noted.

Mr Odongo said since the new curriculum has an aspect of continuous assessment, which is school-based and done by the teachers themselves, Uneb has developed tools to guide the schools on how to assess learners.

The national examiner has already built a tailored digital platform where schools enter continuous assessment scores for individual learners.

Students of Kitante Hill SS pray before they write their Geography Paper I examination on October 16, 2023. PHOTO | STEPHEN OTAGE

There have been questions over the years on teachers’ preparedness to run the competence-based curriculum, with some schools reported to have continued teaching under the old curriculum, raising the potential of problems in overall assessment.

Uneb reported training at least 15 teachers for Senior Three and Four classes per school on the new curriculum.

Officials said some 500 teachers countrywide had already received the knowledge, with another 500 lined for training a couple of months to first final papers under the new curriculum.  

The national examiner has budgeted Shs4.6 billion for the exercise.

“When the funds become available, hopefully in the new financial year (starting July 1), we will go back and ensure we train more teachers and also include those teaching Senior One and Senior Two classes because the competency-based curriculum and the continuous assessment start right from Senior One up to Senior Four,” Odongo observed.

Unanswered questions
•How will schools adjust intake criteria for A-Level students who under the old curriculum were picked, and subject combinations offered, on the strength of a candidate’s performance in individual subjects?

•How will O-Level candidates in schools who have not been undertaking continuous assessment of students be graded or compensated in final ranking?

• How will the new grading system alter the criteria that tertiary institutions and universities use for admitting new student? At present, admission eligibility for specific courses at tertiary and vocational training, as well as universities is based on best scores in particular subjects or subject combinations.

• What certified competences contributes to a candidate’s onward progression?

Ranking under grading system being scrapped

Up until this year, Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) has been grading candidates as follows:

Division 1
Candidates assigned this division had to pass a minimum of eight subjects, including English Language with a credit, a humanity subject (History, Geography, Political Education, Christian Religious Education, Islamic Religious Education) and Mathematics and, except for visually challenged candidates, a science subject. At least seven of the subjects must be at credit level or better and the aggregate for the best eight done subjects must not exceed 32.

Division 2
A candidate required to pass a minimum of eight subjects, English Language inclusive. Scores in six of the subjects must be credits or distinctions. The aggregate for the best eight done subjects must not exceed 45.

Division 3
A candidate must have passed a minimum of eight subjects (with at least three credits or distinctions) or pass a minimum of seven subjects (with at least 4 credits/distinctions) or pass five subjects with credits or better.

Invigilators check students of Luzira Secondary School before sitting for their examinations on March 1, 2021.  PHOTO / DAVID LUBOWA

The candidate’s total aggregate for best eight done subjects was not to exceed 58.

Division 4
Candidates falling in this category were to pass at least one subject with a credit or distinction, or at least pass two subjects with Pass 7 score or pass at least three subjects with Pass 8 or better.

Result 7
Means a candidate never fulfilled requirements for the award of a Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) unlike those in Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Source: Uganda National Examinations Board