Jamaica Gleaner / The new testing regime for primary-school students, which is to be modelled this week, deserves support. Ability and performance assessments from grades four to six will supplement a curriculum-based examination. This represents a distinct improvement over the one-shot, emotionally exhausting two-day marathon of regurgitation which is the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
The substantial problem with the new procedure is that there is poor reception to its implementation. Teachers complain that the entire New Standard Curriculum (NSC), on which the exit profile is based, has been introduced too quickly. Many claim not to have been given printed copies of the curriculum, and that they have been unable (or unwilling?) to access the thumb drive on which it has been circulated.
Have we yet done an assessment of how well the NSC has been incorporated into the 800 or so primary schools? The indication is that many teachers have continued their ways and styles of instruction. This despite the many and expensive tries at continuing professional development.
So if the teachers don’t fully understand the PEP, how much do we think the parents know?
Let’s face it, the mental shift from presenting copious information and remembering it requires huge movement to a posture of evaluative thought and purposeful use of knowledge. This is true for instructors, parents and students alike.
A NEW ORDER
This summer represents the only opportunity for intensive retraining at teachers’ colleges and universities both for prospective and in-service teachers.
There will be resistance to a new order which affects the multibillion-dollar extra lessons industry. Drilling content from past papers will not cut it from now on. Of course, there will always be a place for remedial lessons, but the change of content and method will be unsettling.
Having recently completed marking university examination scripts, I am convinced of the need to raise the standards of standard English in our schools. Many students, soon to be awarded tertiary degrees, do not write legibly, have difficulty composing grammatical sentences, and fall very short in sustaining a logical thought sequence in answering questions.
Remember, these are students who would have scored well at GSAT and got creditable passes at CSEC level. We need an oral English component in our testing at both primary and secondary exit levels. This can be accommodated in the PEP structure.
The hard fact is that some 40 per cent of children leaving grade six are insufficiently prepared for high-school education. Without a minimum score in the range of 70 per cent in language arts and mathematics, progress at the secondary level becomes problematic.
Given some inevitable and other avoidable teething pains of the PEP, results in the first outings may fall even below the modest standards of the last GSAT. How will this affect placement? It will be disturbing particularly to parents in their frantic pursuit of traditional high-school places.
Let us stop being unrealistic about the cost of universal quality education. Having indulged the folly and deceit of discouraging needed and affordable parental contributions, much higher subventions are required for schools receiving students who are weak academically or financially.
Also, instead of thriving as silos of excellence, traditional high schools, especially the Church and trust-sponsored ones, must culture partnerships with less-endowed schools to share resources and best practices. This will reduce the sneer often directed at those institutions without historical pedigree.
The bottom line is that the most efficient way to improve quality in our schools is to insist on attainment of grade standards at each level before promotion to a higher class. The Primary Exit Profile, when better understood and sensitively implemented, can be a part of this process.
If we were to do so as a society, the graduation exercises now under way would reflect far more substance and good purpose.
– Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to [email protected] .