Requiring clarity on Grade Four tests
We admire the energy and passion with which Ronald Thwaites talks about improving the quality of education in Jamaica. The minister would hardly be surprised if, based on the latest evidence, many people remain sceptical of his timetable for meeting his performance goals at the primary level.
Take, for example, last week's release of the results of the 2014 tests of literacy and numeracy among grade four students, or those in the nine- to 10-year-old age group. Mr Thwaites expects that by 2018, two years later than originally scheduled, 85 per cent of the children in this cohort will be graded as having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy.
In literacy, Jamaica, on the face of it, is not doing too badly. Seventy per cent of the students were deemed to have shown mastery of all the components of literacy, while 17.6 per cent showed 'near mastery'. It is a reasonable inference, therefore, that the gap between the current performance and Minister Thwaites' target could be closed over the next three years.
mastery of the principles
We are not nearly so sanguine with regard to numeracy, where the outcomes continue to be, from this newspaper's perspective, close to disastrous. Fifty-eight per cent of students achieved mastery of the principles of numeracy for which they were tested, and 28 per cent were close. However, 14 per cent, approximately three times the rate as in literacy, were out of the ball park.
Moreover, these figures not only underline the weak foundation that manifests itself in Jamaica's poor performance at the high-school level, but, in the absence of further interrogation, mask the depth of the problem in government schools.
For instance, of just under 37,000 students attending government schools who did the test, only 54 per cent achieved mastery. Students of private secondary schools accounted for only 9.7 per cent - 4,006 of the 41,013 - of the students, but their mastery rate of 87 per cent helped to pull up the national average.
Further, it is in need of explanation why, of a grade four enrolment of 39,424 students, approximately 2,450, or approximately six per cent, appeared not to have done the grade four test, which we assumed to be a compulsory exam to determine the progress of children and their likely readiness for secondary education in two years' time. This determination should allow for early intervention.
The explanation, however, needs to extend to why more than 50,000 sat the grade four literacy tests, which is approximately 10,600, or 27 per cent, more than the cohort in the government system. Perhaps the addition represents students who are repeating the exam, having earlier failed to master the requirements. In that event, the education ministry needs to disaggregate the data to give a clear picture of the performance of 'current' students, and how the performance of the 'catch-ups' impacts the numbers.
If the numbers doing the literacy test include repeat students, why is that trend not reflected in the numeracy exam?