KCSE grading system should be transparent

Alliance Boys high school candidates sit for a KCSE paper on November 07, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG
Alliance Boys high school candidates sit for a KCSE paper on November 07, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG 

Growing up, it was common, especially during examination period, to hear a “keep quiet” shout from a member of class whenever other members of the class “lost their cool” and got too rowdy for reading.

One can surmise that for the last few months the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination candidates across the country, have been silently bellowing “the keep quiet” phrase in their mind at the Kenyan public, more specifically our politicians.

Such indignation cannot be considered out of place. For a significant number of candidates, especially those in day secondary schools, the political noise that is yet to completely ebb away has had a negative impact on their final preparations for the examinations.

Yet for the KCSE candidates, the noise and the emotional toil related to the repeat presidential election may not be their greatest concern.


Gathering from a conversation with a number of candidates in July this year and feedback from over a 100 respondents who included students, teachers and parents from schools across the country and tiers, something closer home is bothering our candidates and their teachers.

Asked what they were most concerned about in their upcoming KCSE examinations, over 95 per cent of the respondents proffered that they were deeply concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding the grading of their examinations.

The concerns were linked to the furore that arose earlier in the year about the marking and grading of the 2016 KCSE examinations between Ministry of Education and some key stakeholders.

According to the respondents, their confusion, concerns and anxiety about grading of the KCSE exams was largely due to the very loud and almost defiant silence from Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) officials on the matter.

Contrary to their expectations, the Ministry of Education did not take the initiative to clarify and explain whether the grading system for the KCSE examinations had changed.

By the time of briefing for the 2017 KCSE examinations no official communication and or analysis of 2016 KCSE examination had been officially released to schools.

According to some of the teachers, their efforts to seek clarification from KNEC officials as late as third term this year, months before the initial date of 2017 KCSE examinations from KNEC has been met by a sense of indifference.

To put the concerns of the students and teachers into perspective, allow me to point out that converting raw marks into grades for summative high stakes examinations like KCSE is carried out by a majority if not all examination bodies. The process is considered key in enhancing meaning of such results.

Specifically, examiners contend that subject grades allow for greater comparability of results across subjects and across years.

In other words it should be done for the sole purpose of standardizing results across all subjects; taking care of the different levels of difficulty across the subjects and years of examination.

Best practice in assessment requires that the grading process be done by persons who have an understanding of the subjects.

Another best practice that is gaining traction amongst examination bodies globally is that of making the grading process and system public to all key stakeholders.

For one, access to such information is increasingly being considered a constitutional right. More importantly, such information is considered critical for students’ strategic engagement with the learning and examination preparation process.

It helps them in setting proximal goals which in turn play a key role in boosting their confidence towards the examinations which more than innate ability has been found a critical determinant of summative performance in most examinations.

In addition, knowledge of the grading process and system is important in making decisions on selection of subjects for specialization.

Our KCSE candidates do not deserve any less and they know it.

Based on my theoretical understanding of learning and assessment, I can confirm that their concerns are valid. I therefore implore all of us to join them in demanding that the grading system be made clear.

Herine Otieno-Menya, PhD candidate in mathematics education at the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University