National GSAT results nothing to celebrate

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid was almost smug when on June 8 he announced the national results of the 2017 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) at a press conference at the ministry's head office in Kingston, but we wonder how much there really is to celebrate.

In addition to a four pecentage point improvement in four of the five subjects that comprise the test, the minister listed as notable achievements: the placement of 99 per cent of the GSAT cohort in what he described as full high schools; male students recording a higher mean percentage in language arts than their female counterparts; and 97 per cent of our schools being schools of choice, meaning that students selected a wider variety of secondary schools they wish to attend.

Further, Senator Reid took exceptional pride in the announcement coming a whole week earlier than usual.

While we concede that on a national scale, any improvement in educational performance is worthy to note, we contend that there is hardly anything to celebrate, for scores of 60 and 70 per cent are barely average.

According to Senator Reid's figures, the national mean score per subject is as follows: mathematics, 62.4 per cent; science, 64.7 per cent; social studies, 70.6 per cent; language arts, 72.8 per cent; and communication task, 76.2 per cent. The minister attributed the improved scores — with the exception of science — which declined 4.5 percentage points — to strategies the ministry has implemented, such as the deployment of maths coaches and literacy specialists, the introduction of a mock exam, and a host of programmes and workshops.

Improvement aside, however, from where we sit the 2017 results show a gaping performance deficit and reveal how much more work needs to be done to have our students successfully applying theoretical concepts and mastering subject areas. What's more troubling is that we haven't heard the minister articulate — or perhaps it wasn't stressed enough — the dire need to improve these figures.

Another point with which we contend is Senator Reid counting the placement of 99 per cent of the GSAT cohort in full high schools as a success of the test. We find it misleading, for the only reason that has been able to happen is that the ministry has been phasing out the junior high and all-age levels in the education system, which means that fewer and fewer GSAT students are placed in institutions that bear those nomenclatures each year. The figure is, therefore, not a reflection of improved GSAT performance.

It's misleading, too, for the minister to assert that “97 per cent of our schools are now schools of choice” when the ministry itself added two schools to the list of five which GSAT candidates have to choose when registering for the test. That, of course, widens and diversifies the pool since the last two options have to be in proximity either to the current school the child attends or to his home address.

The issue of placement has always been problematic, seeming to perpetuate the educational classism practised by colonial masters. We believe that it was in an effort to solve this that the ministry increased the number of options to seven. Whether it solves the issues in practical terms remains to be seen. One wonders if the Primary Exit Profile, which is scheduled to replace GSAT in 2019, will make things any easier, or if it will be akin to the proverbial pouring of new wine into old wineskins.




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