AS part of efforts to escape the stigma as one of the island's so-called 'failing schools', Holy Trinity High in Kingston has opted this year to focus on taking their new students from a grade two to grade five reading level.
"Most of our first formers read at the grade two level; that's where we get them and that has been so for some time now," said Sadpha Bennett, principal of the school, which was branded a failing school by former Prime Minister and Minister of Education Andrew Holness.
In addition to Holy Trinity High, Holness, now leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, last year also labelled Marcus Garvey Technical High in St Ann, Glengoffe High in St Catherine and Balaclava High in St Elizabeth as failing schools in need of intervention from the Ministry of Education.
According to Bennett, realising their literacy goal this year was made easier by the introduction of the Alternative Secondary Transition Education Programme, which has seen fewer students who read at the grade one level entering the school. Still, he has a huge task to create programmes tailored to deal with those grade seven students who read at the grade two level.
However, they are having a go at it.
"We have decided to revisit the entire first form programme because most of our first formers are coming to us way below where we would expect them to operate," he told Career & Education.
As such, they intend to continue with a programme introduced two years ago, which has seen students improving by two grade levels.
"We have revised the curriculum, not necessarily in terms of the content, but we have done some degree of integration with all the first form teachers [and] have actually formed like a learning community," Bennett said.
Another feature of that programme, he said, has been the creation of teaching units through the integration of subject areas. These teaching units identify common vocabulary and plan subjects in an interactive way to impact students and improve literacy levels.
Starting this academic year, they have also reduced the number of subjects that the grade seven students do from 13 to seven. Bennett said this will give them more time to focus on literacy.
"We are not depriving them of the diverseness or richness of the curriculum, but it allows more time to focus on improving the reading," he said.
"We still have our reading rooms, reading programmes and specialists who work with grade seven. We anticipate that we will get better results than last year," Bennett added.
The principal noted that while they have the basic resources of a reading room (20 computers, reading material and specialists), with a student population of 1,600 — 300 of them first formers — the benefits were limited.
"If there were to be significant change in terms of the demand of the students, then that is what we really need. Our challenge is that our students are way below where students should be to function at grade seven," he said.
On students' performance at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level, Bennett said he has not observed any increases in the number of students with passes, but said they have seen improvements in the quality of the passes.
Records from the Ministry of Education show that 24.7 per cent of 146 students who sat CSEC English A this year earned passes while 29.1 per cent of the 125 who sat CSEC mathematics passed.