September 29, 2020

Fuss over CAPE rankings


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stands by its position, others disagree

Ainsworth Darby, CEO of Educate Jamaica, the think tank that produces the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations () school rankings, is standing firm behind the publication, amidst criticism from some members of the public who question the legitimacy of the results.

The annual publication, which highlights the “top-performing” high schools based on the percentage of students obtaining two or more subjects with grades one to three in the 2016 CAPE, has left some educators and the public polarised about the fairness of the measurement used.

Among the criticisms are the varying sizes of the cohorts that sit the exam, and the fact that Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), which administers CAPE, accepts grades one to five as passes. Darby dismisses both.

“Yes, some schools have larger cohorts than others and I know some people will say that you cannot, compare a large to a small cohort but I don’t know if I totally agree with that. I am concerned that we are using it to side-step the results,” said Darby, who maintains that the size of cohorts does not weigh heavily on the results of the survey.

He explained that Educate Jamaica deliberately avoids using grades four and five in its assessment as “it fosters complacency amongst students”.

“We don’t do (grades) one to five because it is a psychology thing. If you send up one student to do an exam and the student passes, that’s a 100 per cent pass rate. CAPE is a pre-university exam and we are saying that students are going on to university to specialise in one area, whether it be medicine or law, and what you want is students going into the specialty areas to have the highest level of output.

“I would feel better going in (university) with grades one, two, or at least a three. Grades four and five at CAPE, we think, is just a race to the bottom. Advocating for four and five is not encouraging improved performance, so this is why we don’t do it. We want to encourage the ones and twos,” Darby told the Jamaica Observer.

His explanation finds favour with .

“Fours and fives are a downgrade. The students need to push themselves and get better (grades), so I’m okay with the ranking and I would use it and determine which school I will send my children to,” she reported.

But for people like Shaudia Redwood and Olando Johnson, Darby’s findings are flawed.

“It’s not fair, because you have a lot of schools that won’t get results but they are performing good otherwise. Judging a school solely on CAPE performance is not good enough. What about the other factors that make it a good school?” asked Redwood.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” added Johnson. “It should be based on the grades that CXC says is okay. So right across the board everybody should acknowledge and accept that one, two, three, four, and five are all passes, and not just one, two, and three.

But Darby maintains that:

“We have nothing against fours and fives; CXC says it is acceptable and it is a pass; we just don’t. We want to see most students perform at the one, two, and three level. That is our goal.

“This is not to detract or discourage anyone or say that they haven’t done well; Our aim is to get more students to perform at a higher level. I believe once they are performing at this level going into university, we are hoping that they will then embrace it and do well. We are trying to encourage them from now to command the area that they are seeking to go into,” Darby reiterated.

The survey considered 103 high schools, and had a three per cent margin of error.

Manchester-based Mount Saint Joseph High was the top-performing school, dethroning Montego Bay High School which plunged 23 places. But the study does not offer any reasons for the fall-off.

The schools themselves were not keen on commenting on the rankings. For example, when asked her views on the ranking, the principal of Merl Grove High School simply said, “We (the school) have seen it.”

Speaking with the Sunday Observer late last week, Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) President Howard Isaacs said Darby’s survey should consider the factors that can affect students’ performance at exams.

“There are other factors put in the equation when we talk about performance which is not necessarily captured here as [is captured] in the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report, which speaks to so many other things that affect the school. As a parent, if I am selecting a school for my child, I would want to use the NEI report. I would use this as well, but I would also want to look at what the NEI is saying about the school’s, leadership, and what’s happening in the school rather than solely looking on performance as it relates to CSEC or CAPE,” he said.

Isaacs was responding to the claim by Educate Jamaica that the survey is helping parents to identify the sixth- form schools that are doing well, so that they can make a more informed decision about where to send their child/children.

President Emeritus of the University of Technology, Dr Alfred Sangster suggested that adjustments could be made.

“The ranking of schools is an element of challenge to society and school. The ranking of CAPE is restrictive sort of school-based performance. There are other areas in the life of a school which are not included in the survey.

“Technical high schools should be ranked in the same way as traditional schools because of the differences which cannot be evaluated equally, such as skills.

“We should explore the English system, which has a way of comparing and judging schools not just based on academic performances but there are other areas of a school that you have to look at, like sports, clubs, societies, and competitions,” said.

The NEI report assesses how well primary and secondary students are performing based on a range of indicators-including governance, teaching support for learning, students’ academic progress, and curriculum enhancement programmes. The report also makes recommendations for improvement to the institutions.

CAPE is designed to provide certification of the academic, vocational and technical achievement of students in the Caribbean who, having completed a minimum of five years of secondary education, wish to further their studies. The examinations address the skills and knowledge acquired by students under a flexible and articulated system, where subjects are organised in one-unit or two-unit courses, each of which contains three modules. Subjects examined under CAPE may be studied concurrently or over a two-year period.

IMAGE: SANGSTER … technical high schools should be ranked in the same way as traditional schools

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