NEET controversy exposes cracks in India’s testing system, say experts | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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NEET controversy exposes cracks in India’s testing system, say experts

Jun 15, 2024 02:49 PM IST

Several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court and high courts by students seeking a re-test alleging irregularities and discrepancies

The National Testing Agency (NTA) should opt for a more “scientifically grounded” approach to ensure reliability of the test methodology and evaluation of the result data, said experts, expressing concern over the alleged lack of transparency in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) UG exam results.

The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed retest of over 1,500 students who got grace marks. (ANI File)
The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed retest of over 1,500 students who got grace marks. (ANI File)

Several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court and high courts by students seeking a re-test alleging irregularities and discrepancies. The SC on Thursday allowed retest of over 1,500 students who got grace marks.

“This is a wake-up call for India,” said Kathan Shukla, Associate Professor at the Ravi J. Matthai Centre For Educational Innovation, Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad, while urging the government to follow the best practices used in countries like the US and Singapore. He added that if such an incident would have happened in United States, there would have been a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed against the exam testing agency to recover damages.

On May 5, over 24 lakh students took the NEET exam at 4,750 centers across 571 cities, including 14 international locations. The result, declared on June 4, caused an uproar due to several issues: over 1,500 students receiving grace marks, an unusually high number of perfect scores, and allegations of a leaked question paper. This year, 67 students achieved a perfect score of 720, a significant increase from previous years (two in 2023, three in 2022, two in 2021, and one in 2020). Notably, six of the top scorers allegedly took the exam at the same centre in Haryana.

Shukla, who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Research, Statistics & Evaluation from the University of Virginia, USA, expressed concerns about the NTA’s testing and measurement practices, stating that they were “very opaque”.

“For such high-stake exams, there are scientific protocols like how the test was designed, what was the response of the students and there should be data analysis done on this which should be shared in the public domain,” he said.

He emphasised the need for transparency in how raw scores are developed and urged the adoption of computer adaptive testing by NTA.

“For instance, if a student scores 60% in Chemistry, where the average performance is generally low, and scores 90% in Biology, where the average performance is typically high, how are these scores combined or evaluated?” he said.

“Students should be able to book a slot and take exams when they feel like. This will reduce the overall exam stress on students. The whole world has now shifted to computer adaptive testing and India should as well,” he added.

Computer adaptive testing is a method of assessment where the difficulty level of questions presented to a test-taker is dynamically adjusted based on their responses in real-time. This approach tailors the test to the individual’s ability level, making it more efficient and precise compared to traditional static tests. Such systems use algorithms to select each subsequent question based on the accuracy of previous responses, aiming to accurately measure the test-taker’s proficiency while reducing the overall time needed to complete the exam.

The Indian Institute of Management has been conducting the Common Admission Test (CAT) for years, establishing a reputation for rigorous and fair testing standards. Although the scale between CAT and the National Testing Agency (NTA)’s exams like NEET is very different, IIM-A’s administration of CAT has a reputation for its transparency and reliability. While IIM collaborates with statisticians and item developers to create the test, it has contracted Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for test administration.

IIM-A had in 2019 submitted a proposal to the central government for setting up a national student assessment centre at the institute for a more scientific approach to entrance exams that would entail the integration of evidence-based strategies in test design, administration, and evaluation. This could include employing psychometric principles to ensure test validity and reliability, utilising adaptive testing technologies to provide a more personalised and accurate assessment of each candidate’s abilities, and regularly conducting item analysis to refine question quality and eliminate potential biases. The proposal, however, did not get through.

Shukla said the NTA should consider hiring experts if necessary and should make exam data publicly available and should focus on developing capabilities over the next five years.

Prof. G Raghuram, former director of IIM-Bangalore, observed that there seemed to be issues with the setup of questions and the evaluation process in this year’s NEET exams. “The larger question to be tackled is that while many other developed nations don’t have so many entrance exams for college admissions causing overwhelming pressure on the students (and their parents), coupled with abundance of coaching centres, indicates that our school education is not done in the best possible way. This is an area that requires a lot of thinking and reflection,” said Prof G Raghuram.

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