The 23 pupils from Modern College whose Chinese-language scores were invalidated for plagiarism have had their penalties reduced and were given partial grades in the subject, the examination board said yesterday.
The private secondary school pupils had received no score in the Diploma of Secondary Education subject after they were found to have plagiarised passages from the internet without citations in projects for the school-based assessment for the subject, which accounted for 20 per cent of the grade.
After seven pupils appealed the decision, the Examinations and Assessment Authority said yesterday that its Appeal Review Committee had decided to invalidate all of the projects but would grade the pupils' exam papers.
The committee found in the course of its investigation that another three candidates from the college were caught plagiarising in their projects, but only their project grades had been invalidated as they had been caught by the school and not the authority, said authority spokeswoman Christina Lee Wong-wai.
Lee said if schools found plagiarism, they could choose to give no score for just the projects, but if the authority found such cases, they would disqualify the pupil from all subject grades.
"We consider the penalty of disqualification appropriate for serious cases of plagiarism," she said. "But based on the principle of fairness, we'd like to apply the same penalty for similar cases."
She said the committee was bound by a rule that candidates cannot be downgraded in a review, so it decided to reduce the 23 pupils' penalties so they were the same as the other three.
A further three pupils from other schools disqualified for plagiarising in history and liberal studies projects also had their penalties reduced. The authority would not name the schools.
The 23 pupils from Modern College all had the same teacher at its Prince Edward campus, and earlier said he had told them the project was just a minor part of the assessment and that they could freely copy material from the internet. "Students must realise that integrity is very important in exams," said Lee. "Those who plagiarised should take responsibility, not blame others."
But she did say the committee had taken into account evidence obtained from talking to the pupils, college representatives and the teacher, who admitted he had mishandled the projects.
One of the 23 pupils said yesterday: "We're willing to take responsibility and we apologise for our mistakes," she said. "We just wanted to tell the truth."
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the penalty system should be unified. The authority said it would follow up on the case with the college and review the penalty system.