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Chemistry test issues triggers call for exam body overhaul

by Sheria Brathwaite
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A grouping of parents that has emerged as a leading critic of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) on Tuesday called for the exam body’s overhaul following discrepancies in a Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) chemistry paper sat by thousands of students last week.

The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) has also expressed concern that CXC appears embroiled in an exam fiasco every year.

Paula-Anne Moore, Caribbean Coalition for Exam Redress spokeswoman who also coordinates the Group of Concerned Parents of Barbados, said CXC needed restructuring as it had again disadvantaged scores of students through a major misstep.

Moore was referring to an online petition by hundreds of students who sat the Chemistry Unit 2 Paper 2 exam demanding CXC readjust the marking criteria due to eight major technical issues. By 6 p.m. on Tuesday, over 1 600 people had signed the petition that sought 2 500 signatures.

“Questions in an entire exam section – approximately 25 to 30 per cent of the total paper marks for CAPE Chemistry Unit 2 – were based on Unit 1 syllabus topics,” Moore said. “Some other questions teachers with decades of CAPE chemistry experience and educators with a PhD in chemistry found almost impossible to solve as the wording was problematic, unclear and/or could have more than one answer.”

“Students who had not previously done Unit 1 would not have been exposed to the problematic topic, which made up an entire section of the Unit 2 exam paper. Those who had previously done Unit 1 would still have had major challenges in attempting the topic and section, as they would not have expected Unit 1 topics in a Unit 2 paper, and the questions were not clear and tangential at best to the Unit 1 topic. Imagine the torture of those students who took that exam and how the effects of that stress and worry could affect their entire subsequent exam period.”

Moore described the issues as “cruel” and “unjust”, putting the spotlight on CXC’s competence in setting reliable, valid and fair exams following best practices. 

“We cannot continue to accept major missteps annually. An overhaul of CXC’s governance to enable independent review and greater stakeholder engagement and communication, which we have requested since 2020, is past due,” she said.

Critics have raised concerns about the 52-year-old regional exam body annually since 2020 over grading, results, communication, e-testing and security breaches, with students and parents protesting numerous times. Moore warned CXC’s credibility could be affected by repeated annual issues.  

“We were proud to have CXC as a regional examining body but . . . we have to hold it to standards,” she said. “CARICOM politicians need to hold CXC to account and demand better accountability and better governance . . . . Trust and confidence in CARICOM and CXC governance, CXC’s quality assurance, and their reputation and credibility have all taken a significant beating since 2020.”

BUT President Rudy Lovell said he was unaware of complaints from local teachers about the chemistry paper but was aware of the regional commentary. He urged CXC to “investigate the matter and do what is necessary to ensure students are not disadvantaged”, expressing concern about “a worrying trend” of annual fiascos involving the examination body.

Moore also voiced concern about the CSEC Principles of Accounting paper 2 that CXC is currently investigating after an issue with its distribution at specific centres. In May 2023, CXC scrapped the CSEC Maths paper 2 after reports it had leaked.

Barbados TODAY understands that there are also petitions to protest against this year’s Mathematics paper 2. 

sheriabrathwaite@barbadostoday.bb

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