'Tell them to sue me'
JTA president-elect Owen Speid doubles down in PEP cover-up accusationFriday, June 28, 2019
PRESIDENT- elect of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Owen Speid has hit back at the Ministry of Education, challenging it to take legal action if his comments about an alleged cover-up of poor performance among the grade six students who recently sat the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) have no basis in fact.
In a television interview on Wednesday, Speid accused the ministry of withholding information in relation to some aspects of students' performance, and accused the body of covering up students' true scores. He also argued that teachers across the island only learned about the ministry's decision to use a scaled score when Permanent Secretary Dr Grace McLean appeared before a parliamentary committee in June.
As the ministry explained it, scaled scoring is a representation of the total number of correct answers that have been converted onto a consistent and standardised scale. It is used to account for potential differences in the number of items and the level of difficulty across unique exam subject areas, and is touted as an industry best practice.
In response to Speid's claims, the ministry issued a statement yesterday rejecting the “unfortunate and highly inflammatory accusations”.
The ministry said the decision to use scaled scores instead of raw percentages was announced at the quarterly press conference of December 6, 2018 at the ministry's Heroes' Circle offices, to which all media was invited.
It said this was at least two months before students sat the first of the three components of the tests and argued that there was, therefore, no basis on which to determine that students had done poorly, or any reason to hide their performance.
The statement also said the ministry had engaged in a series of islandwide focus group discussions and workshops to share the new format and get feedback from parents and teachers. It said these took place in June 2016, throughout much of 2017, and were reviewed in May 2019.
“These statements from the leader of a representative body of teachers is an irresponsible attack on the integrity of competent public servants who are qualified and experienced in overseeing the development and administration of national examinations over a number of years,” minister without portfolio in the education ministry Karl Samuda said yesterday, in reference to Speid.
“This is not only irresponsible, but it reeks of intellectual dishonesty. It is unbecoming of someone who purports to be a leader of the teaching fraternity,” he added.
But Speid doubled down, declaring yesterday that the ministry should take the matter to court if it was so convinced that he was lying.
“Tell them to sue me,” he told the Jamaica Observer in a phone interview. “I don't have access to the scores and I don't have access to the papers. What they need to do is to provide the evidence that they are not covering up the scores [and] that they are poor.”
“More than 20,000 teachers, I am sure, who are in the private sector, at least they know that what the ministry is trying to put out there now is not true. The ministry is now saying that they have been sensitising us from 2016, 2017 about this new scoring system and that the scores would be merged. So, in other words, they are saying it's three years they were consulting with people. I don't know where those consultations were held,” Speid continued.
The JTA president-elect, who is expected to assume the presidency at the JTA's annual conference in August, argued further that the education ministry should apologise to the 40,000-plus grade six students who wrote the test.
“They need to be honest. They need to apologise to the nation for traumatising the 40,000 children by rushing to push this exam onto them, because all the indicators were pointing in the direction that they should have put off this PEP exam for the grade 6 children.
“In fact, I don't even believe that the grade five going up now should be sitting PEP next year. I don't believe so,” Speid added.
As he reasoned it, a student could perform better than 95 per cent of the cohort, get a score that is equivalent to 30 per cent, and end up with a high ranking in that percentile.
“So it is a means to cover up and I will say that loud and clear in the face of the minister if he so desires,” Speid said.
His assessment seems to square with what the ministry explained at last week's press briefing to announce the national PEP scores. In response to a question from the Observer about the standardised scores approach, manager of the Student Assessment Unit Terry-Ann Thomas Gayle said the rankings in any given year will be determined by the performance of the cohort in that year.
“They talking about false and inflammatory... If they who are up there now (at the ministry) feel they are too proud to apologise they need to call back the former minister and the junior minister and the former permanent secretary, all three of them, to apologise to the nation. I am demanding of the Ministry of Education, in order to prove that there is not a cover-up, give back all the schools the marked scripts for the performance task,” Speid said yesterday.
“...I don't trust them; they bogus everything. I'm very, very serious and I'm not afraid. They can't intimidate me. They can intimidate every other teacher in this island but they cannot intimidate me. They need to apologise. It's nonsensical to use this method because in two years' time when the children go off to summer school for high school they are not going to use this format of scoring any at all. They are going to be using percentage.”
Speid is principal of Rousseau Primary School.
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