WHEN Malaysia first took part in the international students' assessment programme "Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study" in 1999, its average student score was higher than the international average in both Mathematics and Science.
By 2007, our performance had slipped to below the international average in both subjects.
The progressive decline in the academic performance of our students over the years was in no small measure due to the method of grading student performance on national average grades, that is, on the average performance of students for a particular subject for that particular year.
If the performance of the candidates sitting for a subject in a particular year is good, then the national average grades for that year will be high, as it is calculated after the marks are awarded to the subjects.
If there is a general drop in the performance of the candidates, the national average grade will also drop.
This means that if an above-average student sits for the examination in a year when the average performance of the candidates as a whole is poor, he will score high grades.
This is compared with the poorer grades he is likely to get if he were to sit for the examination in another year when the candidates as a whole perform better, thereby raising the national average grade.
The national average grade is not a reliable indicator of the actual level of mastery of the subject achieved by a student.
It can lead to a gradual decline of academic standards and excellence as students are not required to strive to attain and maintain consistency of standards that reflect the actual level of mastery of the subject.
In the interest of uniformity of standards, I suggest that it is better to permanently fix the marks for the various grades (grade A, B, C, pass mark, etc) so that the academic standard of an A, B or C of all candidates is uniform and consistent, regardless of what year the candidate sits for the examination.
M. Ganeshadeva, Medan Damansara, Kuala Lumpur Source: The New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 19 September 2012