KNEC Introduces New KCSE Exam Grading System

Candidates for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination will benefit from a new grading system that reduces the number of required subjects and focuses on those in which they excel.

They will be graded based on their performance in mathematics, English, Kiswahili, and five additional high-performing subjects.

This is a departure from the current system, which grades students on seven subjects (English, Kiswahili, mathematics, two sciences, and two others).

According to the Chief Executive of the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) 

, David Njeng’ere, the potential impact of the changes on students hinges on the progress of engagements with stakeholders, specifically secondary schools.

He emphasized the importance of avoiding subjecting over 900,000 students to a flawed system. He further mentioned that a meeting discussing this matter is scheduled for later in September.

He assured that the adjustment in the new KNEC grading System would not disrupt candidates’ preparations for the upcoming exam.

The decision to change the grading system is in line with the suggestions made by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER).

The task force headed by Prof. Raphael Munavu determined that the current system disadvantages students whose best subjects are not considered if they are not within the cluster.

A year has been allotted to the Ministry of Education to develop guidelines for the new KCSE examination grading system.

The report from the Presidential Working Group on Education Reforms (PWPER) highlights that English and Kiswahili evaluations gauge a student’s literacy proficiency, whereas mathematics and sciences examinations focus on assessing numerical competencies, as stated in the report.

The number of candidates who pass with distinction (an average of A or A-) has decreased over time, resulting in what some education stakeholders consider to be a waste.

Since the first group of students took the KCSE exams 33 years ago, only 25,331 Kenyans have achieved an average grade of A. According to Knec, the number of candidates passing with distinction was greater prior to the implementation of the 8-4-4 education system.

In the first KCSE examinations, administered in 1989, only one candidate averaged an A. This student attended Alliance High School.

The Nation Media Group awarded him a four-year scholarship after he was recognized as the top candidate in the first KCPE examinations in 1985.

Online research reveals that he studied medicine in Australia and is currently a consultant pediatric surgeon and urologist. In 1991, only two candidates had an average grade of A on the second KCSE examination, whereas none did so in 2002.

Since then, the numbers have exploded. In 2012, approximately 1,146 candidates received an A.

In 2013, 2014, and 2015, when exam irregularity was at its height, the number of candidates earning the grade was the highest. There were 2,704, 3,042, and 2,657 students with the highest grade.

A comparison of O-level performance under the 7-4-2-3 system between 1983 and 1986 reveals that the percentage of candidates who achieved Division III or higher ranged from 37.13 to 48.88%. 19.62 percent of KCSE candidates in 2022 earned a grade of C+ or higher.

Dr. Njengere stated that the rigidity of the current grading system is partially to blame for the high stakes in KCSE examinations, which leads to exam fraud.

Addressing the issue, he highlighted that the data clearly points out a flaw in the existing 8-4-4 grading system that has been in place for an extended period of time.

Acknowledging the persistent efforts to fine-tune it, he expressed satisfaction that the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER) has advised a thorough reevaluation. Drawing a comparative perspective, he noted that grading systems in other countries differ from our own, indicating the need for change.

While moving away from the 8-4-4 system, he emphasized that the transition will encompass five cohorts that are scheduled to undertake the KCSE examination.

With the yearly registration of over 900,000 candidates—amounting to nearly five million in total—he outlined the substantial scope of the upcoming changes.

In the pipeline, he announced plans to convene a comprehensive stakeholder meeting for the purpose of discussing and crafting a revised marking system that aligns with the evolving educational landscape.

These remarks were made on the sidelines of the annual Association for Educational Assessment in Africa conference held in Nairobi on Monday.

Dr. Njeng’ere stated that some students excel in mathematics and the sciences, while others struggle.

He questioned the rationale behind a 12-year schooling duration when a student’s struggle with mathematics is evident. Njeng’ere further inquired about the alternative pathways available and the methods employed to recognize and nurture individual talents.

He emphasized the importance of not evaluating students solely based on their weaknesses, particularly those areas in which they struggle, just to obtain a certificate.

Instead, he advocated for a comprehensive assessment that highlights both strengths and weaknesses. This approach, he believes, would provide students with valuable insights and a clear trajectory for their future endeavors.

Recently, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu stated that, compared to its neighbors, Kenya has the lowest proportion of students with passing grades.

The quality pass rate for the 2022 KCSE examinations was 19.62%. Uganda’s pass rate for comparable examinations was 61.36 percent, Tanzania’s was 36.95 percent, and Zambia’s was 69.31 percent, according to the minister.

If the new grading system increases the number of candidates with high grades, more will have a greater chance of being admitted to universities and colleges. Universities, both public and private, are oversubscribed.

It is also feasible that Module II programs will be revived to accommodate students who miss out on government placement and funding.

Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi called for integrity in the setting, administration, and marking of examinations, stating that governments rely on performance to make decisions regarding investments, policies, job placements, reviews, and reforms.

He emphasized that no other profession places as much emphasis on integrity, honesty, and ethics as that of psychometricians, educators, and researchers. These stringent requirements for integrity serve the best interests of both the nation and the international community.

He highlighted that these professionals play a pivotal role in accurately assessing the genuine capabilities of each learner within our education systems.

The conference saw the representation of Mr. Machogu through the presence of Basic Education Principal Secretary, Belio Kipsang.

Dr. Kipsang conveyed a message on behalf of Mr. Machogu, urging the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) to capitalize on the occasion of hosting the conference.

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