Careers & Education

GSAT being revised, not reviewed — education ministry

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education staff reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 15, 2012    

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THE Ministry of Education has sought to clarify its current work on the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), following yet another announcement of a review earlier this year.

Acting Permanent Secretary Grace McLean said a review of the GSAT is, in fact, complete and what the ministry is now doing is a revision of the exam, which children from the primary education level must sit in order to transition into high school.

Responding to questions from the Jamaica Observer, she said the review, which started in 2009, included a public consultation in all six regions of the ministry. A report on the findings was subsequently completed by the consultant and accepted by the ministry in 2010, McLean said.

"We have continued to refer to the process as the 'GSAT review', which included the review of all documents, the consultations at various levels and stages and now the process of revision that is taking place," she said.

As far back as 2004, the ministry — under the then People's National Party (PNP) administration — announced it would do a review of the GSAT and that it had decided to consult with stakeholders in the education sector. That decision came amidst concerns about the effectiveness of the examination.

In 2008, then Minister of Education Andrew Holness — the current leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, whose administration only last December came to an end — promised to attach a review process to the GSAT as he had seen where improvements needed to be made.

In March 2009, the media reported that project manager and chairperson of the GSAT Review Committee Jean Hastings had indicated the review was to proceed to its second phase: that of exploring solutions to problems discovered with the exam.

However, in May 2010, Holness announced that no changes would be made to the exam until 2013. He said a number of stakeholders would have to be consulted before any adjustments could be made.

Then earlier this year, the new Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites — with the country again being run by a PNP Government — announced a GSAT review was coming and that the ministry was to spend $10.3 million to hire an overseas consultant to do the work. This review, he said then, was to be completed within the year.

But McLean told Career & Education recently that all the reviews announced over the eight-year period have been "one and the same".

"The review is coming out of the transformation agenda that was set by the ministry after the 2004 Task Force Report. The review process is a long and intensive one as it involves several parts," she said.

"This includes, first, a desk review of what currently exists, a secondary review, curriculum audit, stakeholders' consultation, focus group discussions with students, parents, teachers and other educators, a compilation of all findings; and [then] a discussion with stakeholders again, a compilation of all the findings, followed by more detailed work based on all the findings done previously," McLean added.

She noted that all that was done over the past years is now being used by psychometricians to develop the test and to make recommendations regarding the placement of students.

The final document will then be submitted to the minister for approval and further consultations done with stakeholders before finally being implemented.

Meanwhile, despite the 2009 announcement that the review was moving on to its second stage, McLean told Career & Education that the second stage of the review actually started in January this year, following the completion of a procurement process in 2011.

She explained that this revision stage will cost the ministry approximately $10 million, with funding provided by the International Development Bank. So far, she said the review had cost the ministry only $25,000 — paid out to a consultant from the University of West Indies School of Education, who conducted a focus group discussion with parents, teachers and students.

The public consultations islandwide, she said, were sponsored by the National Commercial Bank and so came at no cost to the ministry.

"What we are now involved in is a revision of the primary exit examination. The revision is designed to address the issues highlighted by the review," McLean said.

These issues relate to the depth of the content of the Revised Primary Curriculum, against which the test is set at grades four to six; the dissonance between the written, taught and learnt curricula; the need to implement a school-based element to the test; and the pressure placed on children by parents and teachers to achieve a 'preferred' placement.

"The Revised Primary Exit examination will seek to have a more balanced assessment of students' ability and readiness for secondary [school]. Importantly, it will be based on a new curriculum which is being developed to address what was seen as weaknesses of the previous curricula at grades one to six. The new exit examinations will be set at grade six, measuring what a child is expected to achieve at the end of grade six. A new system for placement will also be developed," she said.

Asked why Thwaites had announced a new review this year, seeing that the review was already complete, McLean said his words may have been misinterpreted.

"He indicated that the review process is continuing along with the actual revision; revision is sometimes used to describe the overall process of change that is expected to take place," she said.

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