Study shows wide discrepancies in how Czech schools mark their students

The way children in the Czech Republic are marked is not always fair according to a newly published study conducted by the think-tank IDEA at the Economics Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. There is a difference by one whole grade in how individual schools mark their students and this in turn can have a negative effect on the ambitions of pupils to advance further in their education, as one of the authors of the study, Daniel Münich, explains.

Daniel Münich | Photo: Jana Šustová,  Czech Radio

“To make it brief, if we compare two pupils with the same results in scores in international testing, the one grade difference in marking increases significantly their ambitions to apply for schools and for an educational path that leads to universities.

“The grades are much more important than the knowledge, demonstrated by the test scores, itself.”

Illustrative photo:  Radio Prague International

I read in your study that up to 80 percent of those ninth graders who get a 1 (top mark) in maths want to go to university, whereas among those who get a 3 it is just 39 percent. The study also revealed gender differences in how students are marked. Girls are apparently likely to get on average a grade that is better by a third than boys. Could you explain this?

“The gender difference has been known before and it is not only the case in the Czech system, it is found internationally.

Illustrative photo: Lucie Hochmanová,  Czech Radio

“The natural interpretation is that the grades for knowledge also include some kind of evaluation of attitudes – how pupils do their homework, how polite they are in classes, and so on.

“Girls, at this age, are performing better. This is an imperfection in the grades, where they measure these two things but most people think that they just measure educational achievement.”

Do socio-economic differences play any role as well?

Illustrative photo: wecometolearn,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

“Yes. And this is very similar. Pupils from weaker socio-economic backgrounds, meaning pupils who do not have parents standing behind their shoulders watching closely whether they are going to school on time and doing their homework, are getting weaker grades.

“We cannot prove this, but our interpretation is again that this is because the grades also partly reflect the attitudes of people.”

Illustrative photo: Lucie Peterková,  Czech Radio

Is it possible to gauge how much the Czech Republic is losing out in terms of potential educated talent by this phenomenon?

“The idea behind this is that if grades are not providing proper information, or somehow misinforming parents and their children, then these are in turn selecting improper educational careers.

“We know that the Czech educational system is highly selective, meaning that it depends a lot on which school you choose and how you prepare for it, so it seems that it leads to the underutilisation of talent in the cases of those who got poorer marks than they should have. And, vice-versa, those who got better marks probably have higher ambitions than they should have.”

Illustrative photo: jcmejia_acera,,  CC BY-NC

I noticed when I was reading your study that you are comparing mathematical results. Mathematics must be very easy to compare in terms of test score results, but did you also include other disciplines in your research, or was it mainly just maths?

“Yes, we focused on mathematics, because it is the subject of testing in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), which are the international surveys of pupils. They are the closest to the national curriculum.

Illustrative photo: Radana Schaeferová,  Czech Radio

“In natural sciences there might be more substantial differences. That said, we made checks but didn’t see substantial differences in results measuring achievements in natural sciences.”

What would you like education authorities to take away from your study?

“First of all, not to put so much weight on grades.

“Not just the government and schools, but also parents should know that grades are not everything, because the system is now very dependent upon grades.

“Also, it would be good to support new phenomena, such as including written assessments of pupils into the grading, as it is much clearer about what the student’s achievement is and of their attitude.”