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Bad news for Grade 4 literacy

JTA says test results demoralising to teachers

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Observer writer editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, December 09, 2010    

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THE number of students achieving mastery in this year's Grade Four Literacy Test has fallen.

Sixty-seven per cent of primary and all-age school students who sat the test in June achieved mastery, a drop of four percentage points from the 71 per cent last year, when compared with June 2009, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Education.

At the same time, only 84 per cent of prep school students achieved mastery this year, down from last year's 93 per cent.

Prep school students make up about 11 per cent of the approximately 50,000 students in each grade cohort.

"The results are not as good this year (as 2009)," permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education Audrey Sewell told the Observer.

The literacy test is written by all grade four students in primary, all-age and independent (preparatory) schools throughout Jamaica.

Sewell said analysis of the results was needed to determine the reasons for the fall in performance this year, but indicated that the unrest in West Kingston and a two-day strike by teachers, both in May, could have had some adverse effect on the performance of the students.

Meanwhile, Sewell said despite a three-month delay, the test results would be published again this year, ignoring opposition from the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA).

"We had discussions with the teachers, but the ministry is going ahead with the publication," the permanent secretary said.

JTA President Nadine Molloy acknowledged that the teachers' union was against the publication of the results, saying that it demoralised some teachers and that weaknesses could be addressed without making the results public.

"The JTA's position is that we would prefer that it not be published. The most important question is 'how does it benefit the system'? From our perspective, if it is demoralising people then we have a problem," Molloy told the Observer.

The JTA president insisted that the publication of the literacy test results would not get teachers to improve their performance.

"What we need is proper planning, training, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. These must be done in a transparent manner," she said.

Molloy, however, denied that the JTA was pressuring the ministry not to publish the Grade Four test results and that this caused the delay.

"We work with the ministry to show them the impact it is having and what corrective measures can be put in place," she said.

Meanwhile, the education ministry's communications manager, Colin Blair, in supporting the publishing of the results, said last year he was bombarded with calls from parents wanting to find out the performance results of their children's schools.

"Parents have been using it as a tool to determine which schools to send their children to, or to ask questions about what is happening in their children's schools," said Blair.

The Grade Four Literacy Test consists of three sections — word recognition, reading comprehension and writing. Students must master all three sections to achieve mastery in the exam.

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