Grade Six Assessment

The Grade Six Assessment results were announced on Friday, and as in previous years the high-flyers recorded a truly impressive performance. But of course the real gauge of how the present cohort of pupils at this level is performing is the overall results, and where those are concerned education officials must still feel some disquiet – the case of Mathematics excepted.

Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson told the media that more than 50% of examinees failed to obtain a pass rate in three of the four subjects tested, although it must be conceded that the marks across the board did represent a very modest improvement on last year and the three years which preceded it. In the case of English specifically, more than half did pass; the last time this happened was in 2014.

The caveat is that the assessments of all the various years may not have had the same character. As we reported on Friday, this year the Minis-try of Education collaborated with the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to improve the quality of all the primary grade assessments. Under the technical guidance of CXC the test items this year were crafted with input from teachers, subject specialists and test development officers, as a consequence of which the tests might not be fully comparable with those from previous years.

Whatever the case, the Maths results, at least, do seem to reflect a considerable advancement on what went before. The reason, as explained by Mr Hutson, was President Granger’s directive which eventuated in the $49 million Emergency Mathematical Intervention Plan, whereby teachers were trained in content and methodology, and fortnightly “cluster meetings” were facilitated in all regions. In addition, Mathematics coordinators and monitors were recruited, and officers and school administrators were trained to supervise the project. As a consequence, the pass rate was 45.6% this year, as opposed to 13.85% in 2016.

It should be said, however, that of all the subjects Mathematics is the one which lends itself best to those kinds of crash interventions. English is altogether more problematic, since the ability to express oneself fluently, naturally and in conformity with Standard English practice is not something which many children will acquire within the space of a year, more especially if they are seriously deficient in reading. They certainly could, however, learn grammar norms in the abstract, so to speak, within a limited time frame, although that would not in and of itself make them literate.

That said, it could be that if children experience progress in one subject area, it may conceivably have spin-off effects in relation to the other subjects. As we reported in yesterday’s edition, Mr Hutson referred to the enhancement of public relations and parental involvement in the education of children as also being features of the Mathematics project. The last mentioned should unquestionably have beneficial effects on educational outcomes if implemented, although to what degree this was done in all public schools was not said; contacting parents in some areas, and then sustaining those contacts so the parent or parents come on board is not an easy matter. One wonders too exactly how the schools went about involving parents, and who had the time to undertake the work in this regard.

While the media for obvious reasons were told about the best performing students, they were not given any figures for the worst performers. How many of those who sat down to take the Grade Six Assessments, for example, had difficulty comprehending exactly what they had to do? In other words, were there some whose literacy levels were so low that they could not understand the questions? That was certainly the case some years ago, when then Minister of Education Sheik Baksh revealed himself disturbed by the number of children who could not even follow the questions.  More than anything else, such data would give the public a very general idea of the scale of the problem the ministry faces.

That hinterland students are at a distinct disadvantage in educational terms is no secret to anyone, but it would have been helpful if Mr Hutson could have given the media some indication of the geographical distribution of all the results. In terms of Maths alone he was somewhat more forthcoming, telling reporters that in Region One, for example, 172 pupils passed the subject in 2017 as opposed to six last year; and in the case of Region Eight, one passed last year while 62 gained 50% or more this year. In fact, all the regions saw increases in this particular subject.

While the public might benefit from more detailed data, nevertheless Friday’s press conference represented a marked improvement on what has obtained in some previous years, since it supplied at least general figures for the four subjects.

The danger with the Grade Six Assessment as it is structured, is that it is to all intents and purposes an exam, which has become an end in itself. The temptation, therefore, is for teachers to teach in order to pass the exam, rather than the exam functioning as an ‘assessment’ of the student. Be that as it may, if it can be used as an instrument to raise literacy and numeracy levels then it will have served a purpose.

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