Last week, there was a meeting of Joint Admission Board (JAB) of IITs, which includes Directors and JEE Chairpersons of all IITs. It was held at IIT Madras. A newspaper report mentioned that the JAB decided to setup a committee to decide the cutoff marks in the 12th class examination for JEE-2011. The committee will look into the issue of normalization of marks of various boards, amongst other things.
I hope the report is correct. It is high time that IITs consider school performance in a serious way for admission to IITs. All across the country, the emergence of admission tests for admission to higher education has ensured that students do not take school education seriously. When the top half of the class does not take school seriously, it discourages teachers, and learning of even the bottom half is seriously hampered. Also, we find that it has resulted in lack of many skills which should normally be developed at the school level, including the most important one of communication and language skills.
There have also been some studies done which showed that the performance of students in IITs has a stronger correlation with the 12th class marks, and a weaker correlation with the JEE rank. If that be the case, it is clear that insisting on higher 12th class marks for admission to IITs (and indeed to all higher education institutions) will result in better student intake than the current system. Considering the quality of examination and in particular weaknesses in proper invigilation during the exam, it is too risky for IITs and other higher education institutions to only rely on 12th class marks for admission, and at least in the medium term, exams like JEE and AIEEE are here to stay.
To have a very high cutoff in 12th class marks is not easy to implement due to differences in various boards across the country who conduct these exams. And indeed, one of the tasks that this committee has been assigned is to find a way to normalize the 12th class marks across all boards.
One point that JAB seems to have missed out is that there are two distinct goals for looking at 12th class marks. One goal is to only select those who do extremely well in 12th class. If you follow this goal, then one would suggest a cutoff for CBSE as 85% or 90% and then one will have to do normalization for other boards etc., because there may be boards in which getting so many marks may not be possible.
While this goal is laudable and must be pursued in the medium term, there can be another goal in the short term. This goal can be to ensure that the students preparing for JEE also take 12th class seriously. This goal can be met with a much lower cutoff for 12th class marks. A cutoff, which disqualifies about 1 percent of the selected candidates. If you look at the merit list of 8000 students of this year, find out the 12th class marks for all of them, and decide the cutoff which will be missed by about 80 students, then it is likely to be slightly less than 70%. (We, at LNMIIT, looked at the 12th class marks of all admitted students this year - a small sample indeed compared to IIT system as a whole - and found out that the lowest 1 percent were below 68%. Since we take students after IITs (AIEEE rank upto 18000, and EML rank upto 9000), if the same exercise is done by IITs, the chances are that the 1 percentile will be at 69% or so.
Assuming these numbers to be true, JEE could keep the 12th class cutoff at 70%, and disqualify about 1 percent or may be slightly higher number of students. If you disqualify about 100 students on this basis, it will shock everyone and people will start taking 12th class more seriously.
Another thing we noticed was that almost all candidates who were below 70% marks in 12th class were from CBSE system in our case. Again, if out of 100 students disqualified, most were from CBSE and only a handful from, say, UP Board, students from UP board will not go to court saying that they are being discriminated against and that they should get the benefit of normalization.(Like no one has challenged the 60 percent limit so far.) And even if they challenge, courts are not likely to be sympathetic to them if only 1-2 percent students are being disqualified.
Since JEE has often been accused of destroying the school education system, this simple step of increasing the cutoff from 60 to 70 percentile will cause a lot of serious students to be back in class, and JEE would have done a great service to the school education system in the country.
I would, therefore, like to suggest that while a committee can try to find a medium term solution to select only those for IITs who do extremely well in 12th class, but in the immediate future (JEE 2010), one may consider increasing the cutoff to 70% (or at least 65%) with appropriate concessions to the reserved category students.