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#BTColumn – A look at measurement in Barbados’ education system – Part 2

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By Walter Edey

Without performance data the potential and future of a student is left to happenstance. 

Annually, we go or should go to the doctor for a physical. The test we take assesses the efficacy of our medical protocols and the report tells us if our body is meeting predefined medical health standards. The medical report allows the doctor, if data is not “normal” in any area to provide guidance moving forward, offer remedial steps and action points, and track progress, after retests. This standards-based approach is foundational to performance and success. 

The form of the Barbados Common Entrance Exam, differs only in name, from universally-used achievement and proficiency  assessments. These types of tests all have an inherent bias. They favour students from a certain socio-economic environment. However, education systems in New York for example, show that there are proven ways to mitigate the challenges of students from vulnerable families. In Barbados, the prep form at Harrison College, was a self-correcting form. Other schools used a lower first. In the end, the better-performing student, starting in first form, completed the ‘O’ level programme in five years, instead of six.  

Reporting the results in a standard base format is a valuable iteration of what is currently done. It is a proven purpose-driven method that speaks to student responsibility and teacher and school accountability. It reminds students that they are responsible for their learning, but at the same time, teachers and others are prepared to help along the way.

It would make sense for the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill to determine numeracy and literacy standards consistent with global and national expectations. Having determined these standards, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) should be requested to convert the raw scores into a performance-driven reporting format. 

An example of a four level standards based reporting format is shown below: 

A: Level 1 –  Not proficient, not meeting standards. 

B: Level 2 – Proficient, meeting standards.

C. Level 3 – Very proficient, meeting standards.

D. Level 4 – Extremely proficient and meeting standards.

Accompanying such a report would be specific global areas of deficiency e.g Math: measurement, number sense and operations, geometric constructions. 

By examiners assigning student results to levels, education planners can determine the percentage of students at each level, and the areas that need improvement.  For example, if a large percentage of students performed poorly in measurement, that immediately raises a red flag. By understanding which areas need improvement and which areas students are excelling in, instructors can tailor their instruction to better meet the needs of their students.

Summer programmes and retesting, after school and Saturday school (funded or volunteered private lessons) are formats frequently used in New York as remedial measures for students who do not meet the standards, which apply equally to those pursuing both academic and non academic education streams.

This leaves the transfer of students to schools at the secondary level as a separate mechanism. Given the two emerging urban cities in Warrens and St. Philip, Barbados now has six clearly defined large communities, each with access to established school plants, the primary school, the older secondary schools, the newer secondary schools, and the private school, in natural geographic radii of between five to ten miles. If the science of organising flow systems is any guide, this setting makes the zoning of schools into regions the most efficient and effective ways of organising the system.  Additionally, such zoning would assure public transport savings, reduce congestion, and build community by setting the stage for regional school competition in sports, the arts, reading, 

What is missing from these natural groupings are the streams of flow to the two non academic sanctuaries The Community College and the Samuel Jackman Institute in particular. By giving the Samuel Jackman Institute the status of a university or community college, with selected schools from each region as satellite schools, would immediately give prestige to the large community of skilled workers in Barbados. It would have a multiplier effect, if the academics choose the areas of Construction Management and Technology. It also stands to reason that a bubbling organised and respected construction industry will automatically increase the coffers of the National Insurance scheme – and as the late C.O. Williams did, earn contracts in neighbouring islands. 

In the short term, it is urgent to complete a public relations campaign which communicate to parents: the qualifications of staff at each school of choice, the benefits that accrue when students reduce travel time, the success stories of students who did not attend the ‘top’ school, the benefits of parents actively participating in the activities and organisation of their children’s school. In the new world of social media, this campaign becomes easier by developing and improving school websites, booklets, and Facebook pages.

Ultimately, looking at the performance of self is hard and not for the faint of heart.

Walter Edey is a retired maths and science educator in Barbados and New York.

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