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No percentage scores for PEP

BY KIMONE THOMPSON
Associate editor — features
thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

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WHEN the results for the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) are issued next week, the scores will be represented according to a scale and not according to percentages as prevailed with the preceding Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), a move to closely align the profiles with global standards.

As the Ministry of Education explains it, it is statistically unsound to add scores for different subjects, given that the PEP subjects do not carry an equal amount of total marks and are therefore on different scales.

“As part of best practice, instead of using percentage scores, scaled scores are used for reporting,” manager of the Ministry of Education's Student Assessment Unit, Terry-Ann Thomas Gayle told a press conference yesterday.

“This is the case in high-stakes exams such as the SATs in the USA, Programme for International Students Assessment, and Cambridge exams. This method is used globally and is used in this instance, as it is in keeping with best practice,” she added.

To arrive at the scaled scores the ministry explained that the raw score for each subject — mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies — will be transformed to a standard score. Each standard score will then be totalled to derive a composite score by which students will be ranked. The student with rank #1 is placed first in his school of choice, followed by the student ranked second, and so on.

“Scaled scores are used to ensure consistency in reporting...and candidates are held to the same passing standard, regardless of which examination form they take, to provide a direct comparison of performance across examination forms and administrations,” Permanent Secretary Dr Grace McLean said yesterday.

The process, she reiterated, is carried out using a computer algorithm.

PEP replaced GSAT as the tool employed by the ministry to assist in placing students in high schools. It is designed to generate a complete profile of students' ability under the National Standards Curriculum over a three-year period, starting in grade four. Tests contributing to the profile were administered to grade six students on February 26, March 27 and 28, and April 16 and 17. Grade four students were tested on May 30 and 31, and grade 5 is scheduled to be assessed from June 18-21.

The results for grade six are scheduled to be published during the third week of June.

Some educators with whom the Jamaica Observer discussed the development yesterday agree with the move to standardise the test results, arguing that it is the best way to take into account qualitative performance.

“It is impossible to use raw scores to take into account the qualitative features of, let's say, Performance Task that evaluates your child's ability to make sense of information and use it. Scaled scores are best to assess student skills and evaluate the learning progress,” said CEO of Spark Education Limited Brittany Singh-Williams.

Further, she said the benefit of using a national scale score is that students will be ranked according to their cohort, versus a standard score of a national sample that does not change.

“Based on my understanding [of the situation]... this is beneficial to students, especially the first cohort of students, who will be scored based on similar readiness levels for PEP. PEP is a national assessment to determine where a child's abilities fall against the expected standard of achievement across the nation. We cannot avoid comparing student achievement,” she said.

Singh-Williams holds a master's in global and international education and a bachelor's in education/teaching of individuals in elementary special education programmes.But not everyone agrees.

Another educator with whom the Observer spoke yesterday, but who asked that his name not be used for this story, argued that scaled scores mask actual achievement.

“Raw scores serve a purpose. To conceal them under the guise of standardisation does not help the student — it helps the system,” he said.

“The approach is putting the cart before the horse, because there are positions along the value chain of positive educational outcomes that still require adjustment and refinement, such as item determination, instrument development, and the system-wide training of trainers,” added the educator who has served as an examiner for Caribbean Examinations Council.

At yesterday's press conference, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Karl Samuda said parents will receive a detailed, four-page report outlining their children's performance. The first two pages the student summary report will feature the students' scaled scores, an interpretation of the scores, and placement.

The additional two pages a detailed subject report will break down the areas tested in each subject and detail the child's performance in each.

Dr McLean said, despite “initial misgivings and misunderstanding” and minor logistical challenges, the PEP has so far been greeted with general responsiveness and cooperation.


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