Wits denies review of Cohen medical exam marking method

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The University of the Witwatersrand has denied newspaper claims that it is reviewing the Cohen 60 marking assessment method, saying “no decision … political nor academic” was being considered.

A political decision to consider reviewing an assessment method for medical students at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) was allegedly among options to be debated internally following an outcry over its use. According to a City Press report, “reliable sources” in the higher education sector said that Wits enquired from two senior researchers with intimate knowledge of the Cohen method to confirm its suitability.

To allow for the varying difficulties of exams, the Cohen method establishes an exam pass mark by using a fixed percentage of the marks of the best students. But, the report notes, critics say this assessment method is unfair and discriminatory, especially to students from poor schools because it does not take into account their historical challenges.

The new method provoked an outcry after some former medical students, who had been excluded in 2016 and 2017, criticised the university for introducing Cohen 60 for “high stake” exams saying it was meant to disadvantage poor students. And, the report says, earlier this month, Cohen 60 was in the spotlight again after only 15 of the 46 medical students passed the Colleges of Medicines of SA (CMSA) exams. Medical experts, sources claimed last week, have also criticised the Cohen 60 method.

Wits spokesperson Buhle Zuma denied there had been consultations on the issue. “There is no decision that is being considered by the university regarding the use of the Cohen 60, neither political nor academic,” said Zuma.

City Press report

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