Education Commission says high school exit exams results unreliable

The Jamaica Education Transformation Commission (JETC) says the examination results at favoured high schools versus those from non-traditional institutions are not reliable because they do not take into account the stark gap in the socio-economic realities facing both sets of students.

Professor Orlando Patterson, who chairs the JETC, made the declaration Thursday at the launch of the commission's report on the issues plaguing the education sector over the past 20 years.

“Because of the extreme inequality in our schools, it makes no sense comparing all the schools in one. We have two systems of secondary school — a traditional system of 42 schools which provide world-class education comparable with the rest in the world. We have another system — the non-traditional — and it makes no sense lumping them all together, as is done annually, as people report the exam results. The non-traditional schools always end up in the bottom,” he said.

“You have to distinguish between such schools that take such students and, at the end, work wonders in bringing out the best in them,” the commission chairman asserted.

He said some schools may bring students up to a certain academic level, and are still seen as failing, without information on the background and resources of the students, which is what makes the difference, over the numbers.

Using this value-added approach combined with the traditional assessment exam results matric the JETC has come up with a ranking of schools which, Patterson said, will surprise Jamaicans.

According to the panel of experts, Glenmuir High in Clarendon is the country's leading traditional secondary school.

“It clearly demonstrates that schools can perform at the highest level while admitting students from more modest backgrounds, or those who may not have been as well-prepared academically during their primary school years,” the report said.

Also in the top three traditional slots are Wolmer's High School for Girls in Kingston, and St Jago High in St Catherine.

Meanwhile, Dinthill Technical in Linstead, Denbigh High in May Pen, and Edwin Allen High in Frankfield have been named the top non-traditional schools, while Merl Grove High and Campion College, both in St Andrew, are the best-performing traditional high schools, measured solely in terms of the value they add based on the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination results.

“The results substantially alter the traditional evaluation of the nation's secondary schools,” the commission said.

Professor Patterson argued that performance varies radically between those schools where students are from middle and upper middle-class backgrounds and live in homes in which they have their own rooms and parents who are highly educated with the means to get tutors and other support systems for them.

“These students are bringing to the school an extraordinary amount of resources, and they are bound to exceed, as opposed to schools in Tivoli Gardens, rural Clarendon, etc, where kids from peasant families are living in homes — six [people] in a room, hot, parents are semi-literate or just too darn tired to help, [and] obviously no tutoring,” Professor Patterson stated.

He urged the Government to move now to fix the problems that beset the sector, describing the current situation, as summed up by the World Bank, as “disastrous”.

“The learning crisis is serious. The more we dug into it, the more serious it appeared,” he said of the commission's work, which Prime Minister Andrew Holness commissioned in July 2020.

He pointed to the dismal Primary Exit Profile results of 2019, which showed that about 60 per cent of students were failing in mathematics, 33 per cent of the cohort could not read, 56 per cent could not write, and almost 60 per cent could not identify the topic in a sentence.

“This is serious. This is after spending billions of dollars on education — all the energy we put into it, something is not working. It should not be so after all the effort we have put in since Independence,” Professor Patterson stressed.

He noted, as the JETC did in its report, the laundry list of inefficiencies facing the sector, including poor performance among students, and an organisational crisis in the education ministry.

He again pointed to the World Bank's estimation that if the Government moved swiftly to recover the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 crisis it would cost about $2.2 billion annually for two years. However, inaction would eventually cost the country US$5.5 billion.

“So we can choose between spending this extra amount now up front, or we can not do it efficiently and end up with a final cost of US$5.5 billion. It's a no-brainer what we should do,” Patterson said.

The commission has recommended a complete review of the education system to include the role of education officers, a performance management framework for the education ministry's senior team, more frequent auditing of schools, the promulgation of the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill and other legislative changes, such as the updating of the regulations to the Education Act, which, Patterson stressed, needs to be amended with “great urgency”, and the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission Bill.

The last review of the education sector was commissioned by the Government in 2004. It was chaired by Dr Rae Davis, but many of those recommendations have not been implemented by successive governments.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter

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