Public examinations comprise not only the administration of the externally examined paper by the published date. It also encompasses the administration of the continuous assessment of the students – an activity which is supervised by teachers based on specific criteria and moderated by the Examining Board.
Moderation involves the remarking of samples of the teacher’s continuous assessment in order to ensure conformity with the standards of the Examining Board.
Below is some information about school based assessment (SBA) as designed by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), the premier testing institution in the region. In conceptualizing and introducing SBA in 1979, CXC sought to bring several innovations to the assessment and certification of secondary school students in the Caribbean. The concept has since been introduced by many examining boards. In some countries, SBA forms the entire examination in some subject areas.
SBA/Internal Assessment was seen as a strategy to:
i. Give teachers a meaningful voice in the assessment and certification of their students. What is not generally known is that the CXC syllabuses and assessment strategies are developed in consultation with teachers. They serve on and predominate the membership of the syllabus formulation panels. In addition, the draft syllabuses are circulated to schools and subject associations for comment before the final version is circulated.
ii. Allow students to demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities not readily assessed in the traditional examination environment. This is also important for those candidates who do not normally perform well in the examination setting;
iii. Enhance the overall validity of the assessment process; and
iv. Provide the opportunity for students to pursue individual interests, within the parameters of the curriculum, by engaging in projects and investigations of their own choice.
An essential aspect of the teacher’s role and responsibility has always been to devise projects and assignments that allow learners to apply what they have been taught by completing these tasks as classwork or homework over a set period of time. The work is assessed by the teacher and the scores reported, usually at the end of the school term or year. Those teachers who follow best practices provided feedback to their students to guide them in the direction of improved performance in the future.
This is precisely how it was envisioned that SBA/Internal Assessment would be implemented in the classroom, and that is why the more successful schools are the ones that enforce their deadlines and treat the SBA no differently than they have always treated projects and assignments. The only difference is that the scores should now be forwarded to the examining body and a sample of the candidates’ work submitted for moderation for quality assurance purposes.
It is important to note that in the early days, the SBA scores were captured manually by the teacher and forwarded to the Council for entry. In response to the concerns raised by teachers across the region about the manual capture of the scores, the Council provided a simple web form which allowed the teachers to enter the candidates’ scores onscreen. This eliminated errors of transcription and provided a permanent record which could be verified by authorized personnel.
SBA at the CSEC level, in most instances, is done over a two-year period which should begin in form 4 and conclude when the final scores are captured in term 2 of year 5. In other words, there are five terms in which candidates select, investigate and complete the assignment, and teachers capture the scores for the various components of the assignment.
In schools where the programme is efficiently organized, teachers and students agree on the dates for the presentation of various sections of the study, e.g. Introduction, Literature Review etc. Once these dates are strictly enforced and adhered to, teachers and learners know precisely how to plan and schedule their submissions to avoid ‘bunching’ i.e. when everything becomes due simultaneously.
What has become apparent is that in many instances, SBA is now being completed in terms 4 and 5 (i.e. terms 1 and 2 of year 5) creating unimaginable challenges for teacher and student as it is now being managed as a one shot test and not continuous assessment. Moreover, the SBA report should not exceed 1,000
words (three pages) at CSEC and 1,500
A teacher who permits candidates to submit 50 pages or more has not been involved in the candidate’s process or he/she would have advised the candidate correctly. Group/team work is also permitted and indeed it is encouraged. In addition, CXC allows students doing more than one subject in a cognate group, for example, the natural sciences, to submit one integrated SBA project rather than having to complete a project for each of the three subjects.
This reduces significantly the amount of individual scoring the teacher has to do and speeds up the marking process. In addition, at the CAPE level, in selected subject areas, the Unit 1 SBA may be taken forward to Unit 2 once the candidate is satisfied with his/her performance at Unit 1.
Teachers know their students well. It is they who can determine whether or not the work submitted truly represents the students’ best efforts, and it is they who are well positioned to assess their students’ efforts fairly and reliably. For anyone other than the teacher to take on the responsibility of assessing the candidate’s work and giving feedback at each stage, or of marking the final product would be to defeat the purpose of the SBA.
(Susan Giles is former Head of Examinations Administration & Security at CXC)