Is the Abitur particularly hard in some federal states and “worth” more than in others? The debate has been going on for decades. The countries are now taking a step towards greater comparability.
The federal states want to make the Abitur in Germany more comparable. The culture ministers of the federal states decided on Thursday in Berlin to reform the “Agreement on the design of the upper secondary school”. The agreement has existed since 1972 and has been amended several times. The new regulation is not about the Abitur exams, but about the so-called qualification phase beforehand.
For the first time, nationwide specifications for the number and weighting of exams were set for this two-year phase. In addition, the possible number of advanced courses is limited and a uniform specification for the total number of courses to be taken is set. The plans are to be officially announced on Friday at a press conference of the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK).
the initial situation
In autumn 2020, the federal states had decided on a new “state agreement on the common basic structure of the school system” and stipulated that the framework conditions for the Abitur should be more closely aligned. In 2017, the Federal Constitutional Court called for better comparability of Abitur grades so that applicants with a poorer grade are not disadvantaged because the assessment standards in their federal state were perhaps tougher than for competitors with better grades from a federal state where the Abitur may have been easier.
Wide range of degrees
The range of final grades is very large when comparing the federal states: In 2022, for example, in Thuringia, according to the KMK Abitur grade statistics, 46 percent achieved an A-Abitur (1.0-1.9), in Schleswig-Holstein it was only 25 percent. The other countries were in between. While the value of these numbers as a guide to how hard or easy a particular high school diploma is is limited because many factors affect final grades, the numbers continue to play a role in the debate.
The plans of the KMK
Only a third of the Abitur grade is calculated from the exam results. Two-thirds of the performance from the qualification phase goes into the final grade. The countries now want to standardize this part more:
In the future, prospective high school graduates should only be able to take a maximum of three advanced courses (“subjects at a higher level of requirement”). So far, up to four are theoretically possible. Most countries have already set only two or three. With the new regulation, this would be stipulated nationwide for the future. In the case of two advanced courses, these five hours per week should be taught, with three courses it can also be four hours. 36 of these should usually be included in the final assessment. At the moment, each federal state can handle this differently and include 32 to 40 courses in the overall calculation. For the first time there is a uniform specification for the number and weighting of exams: In the advanced courses, one or two exams should be written nationwide every six months. An exam can be taken in the fourth semester, but it is not mandatory. If two exams are written, they make up 50 percent of the half-year grade, with one exam it is 30 percent. Even in the basic courses, if the exam subjects are German, maths and a foreign language, one or two exams are written per half-year , in the fourth half of the year there is also an option here. And as with the advanced courses, 50 percent of these are included in the half-year grade for two exams, and 30 percent for one exam. The natural sciences of biology, chemistry and physics, if they are taken as a basic course, are taught three hours a week, until now two hours were also possible here.
The regulations should apply at the latest to schoolchildren who enter the so-called introductory phase in 2027 and graduate in 2030.
The German Philology Association, which represents teachers at grammar schools and secondary schools, welcomed the adjustments. “We are happy when the Conference of Ministers of Education fulfills the task of the Federal Constitutional Court from 2017 and ensures more comparability with the Abitur,” said the chairwoman Susanne Lin-Klitzing. Not everything has been achieved, but much of what has been advocated for a long time.
The President of the German Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, was more reserved. He spoke of a “triple step”. A real comparability is still a long way away. It pointed to some differences in the Abitur tasks.
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