As we reach a watershed in education with reforms to include the abolition of the Barbados Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examination – the common entrance exam for eleven-plus-year-olds – Barbados TODAY believes it is in the public interest that our readers gain insight from the Ministry of Education on its findings on student performance.
We offer an abridged version of the minister’s 25-page report in order to understand how the nation’s children performed on a single day in May in two subjects – Mathematics and English – and on the performance of the nation’s public and private schools.
In tomorrow’s edition, we intend to offer our thoughts on the results of this year’s ‘Eleven-plus’ for the benefit of those up-and-coming citizens who will inherit this decades-old system of matriculation for high school entrants and those interested in genuine and meaningful reform.
An overview of the results
Of the students who wrote the examination in 2019, 3,283 or 97.5 per cent were allocated to public secondary schools as compared to 3,418 in 2018, 3,216 or 93.5 per cent in 2017 and 3,527 or 93.1 per cent in 2016.
Each year, a number of students are not allocated in the initial stage primarily because parents made too few choices of schools. When this situation occurs, the students are placed at a significant disadvantage because they are then allocated to one of the few schools where spaces are available.
An analysis of the results
The raw scores in Mathematics ranged from 0-100. This year 35 students, 22 males and 13 females scored full marks on the Mathematics paper. This represents a significant increase from ten students in 2018. This year, six male students scored zero as compared to zero students in 2018.
National Mean (Mathematics)
The national mean in Mathematics for 2019 is 61.58. This represents a slight decline of 0.88 from 2018 when it was 62.46. In 2017 the national mean was 55.0.
This decline in the students’ overall performance in Mathematics has been reflected in the number of public schools which perform above the national mean.
In the past, it was observed that there has been a core of schools which are consistently among the top performing schools and a corresponding group of schools that performs the complete opposite. This year has seen some disruption to the core as there has been some upward and downward movement of schools within, into and out of the core. However, the fact remains that the majority of public schools (42) have consistently scored below the national mean over the past three years. Whereas the majority of private schools (20) continue to perform above the national mean.
Performance in Mathematics by section
The Mathematics paper is comprised of 55 items and is divided into three sections.
· Over the past three years, students continue to demonstrate an average knowledge of basic mathematical concepts (Section 1) with females performing marginally better than males.
· Although the overall performance in Section 2 (comprehension-type items) was above the 50 per cent mark, there is still some cause for concern as a number of the students have not demonstrated mastery of the comprehension skills. The females, however, continue to demonstrate a higher level of understanding of basic mathematical concepts than males.
· Although there has been some improvement in the overall performance of students in the application of knowledge and comprehension skills to solve real-life problems (Section 3), in 2019 over 2018 and 2017, the lack of mastery of comprehension skills in Section 2 still continues to impact on the performance in Section 3, where students are expected to read, analyze and draw a conclusion from a unique situation. Students have still demonstrated that they experience extreme difficulty in applying knowledge and skills to new situations.
The raw scores in English ranged from 0 to 99.
National Mean (English)
The overall national mean in English for 2019 is 65.74. This represents a decline by 3.7 when compared to the national mean of 69.44 in 2018. There has been marginal fluctuation in the overall performance of females over the past three years whereas male performance continues to steadily decline.
There has been some fluctuation in the number of public schools that have performed above the national mean in English over the past three years. In 2017, 22 public schools scored above the national mean as compared to 27 schools in 2018 and 25 in 2019. This highlights the fact that the majority of public schools have consistently scored below the national mean over the past three years.
Data for the private schools reveal that 21 private schools scored above the national mean for English, while only eight scored below for 2019. Further inspection shows that in 2018 as well as 2017, 19 scored above the mean and six and five respectively scored below the mean. Thus, it can be noted that the majority of private schools have scored above the national mean over the three-year period.
Performance by Section
The English Paper comprises Sections A and B, with 85 items in total.
Section A assesses Grammar, Vocabulary and Comprehension (multiple choice) and accounts for 70 of the 85 items. Each item is awarded one mark each. Section B consists of two Comprehension passages which assess the ability of candidates to comprehend expository text through the use of open-ended, short answer questions. This section comprises the 15 remaining items which are awarded two marks each.
In both Sections A and B, female students consistently outperformed their male counterparts during the three-year period under review.
An analysis of student performance in Mathematics Paper has revealed that there continues to be a need for concern as:
· Too many students have demonstrated that they have not attained mastery of basic mathematical concepts.
· A vast majority of the students continue to demonstrate their inability to apply knowledge and skill to solve real problems in Section 3 of the paper.
· Females continue to demonstrate a higher level of understanding of basic mathematical concepts than males.
Analysis of student performance on the English Paper suggests that while students are improving in their understanding of discrete grammatical and vocabulary concepts (Section A), more students are struggling in the free response section of the paper (Section B).
Greater emphasis needs to be placed on developing students’ use of functional grammar. This can be done by incorporating more opportunities for oral expression in the classroom through meaningful discussions, oral presentations, interviews and questioning among others.