Country on track to meet literacy target
The Ministry of Education welcomes the spotlight that The Gleaner continues to place on the education sector. Your editorial of February 24, 2015, titled 'Requiring clarity on Grade Four Tests', raised several issues that we seek to clarify.
First, your editorial observed that Jamaica is "not doing too badly" in meeting the literacy target of 85 per cent of the grade-four age cohort attaining mastery by 2015. In fact, Jamaica is on track to reach the original target in this year - not in 2018 as you suggested.
Based on the results of the Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) last year, the country is 7.6 per cent below the target. For the past 15 years, the country has improved by 30 percentage points in the mastery of literacy - an average increase of two percentage points per year. However, with the application of targeted diagnostic and instructional measures, it is expected that students will significantly narrow the performance gap when they sit the GFLT in summer of this year.
Second, your editorial described numeracy outcomes as "close to disastrous". The Ministry of Education remains dissatisfied with the levels of mastery in numeracy being attained at grade four. The mastery level is currently 54 per cent. However, we are encouraged by the 20 percentage-point gain for the last five years, and continue to work to achieve the revised target of 85 per cent mastery by 2018.
Critical to achieving this is the strengthening of the capacity of teachers to improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms. In this regard, the following efforts are under way:
n Increasing the number of math specialists deployed to the system.
n Providing training opportunities for teachers to strengthen their content knowledge.
n Providing principals with the knowledge, skills and competencies to lead the learning of mathematics in an effort to ensure that gains made are sustained.
n Working closely with teacher-training institutions to improve programme quality and delivery in order to ensure that stronger math teachers graduate from their programmes.
The teaching of mathematics requires a level of specialisation that we have not afforded our teachers in public schools. The ministry is addressing this matter in the medium and long terms at both the levels of the teachers' colleges and schools, the latter through in-service training and coaching. In addition, timetabling of the delivery of the curriculum will also facilitate the specialised teaching of mathematics.
Third, Mr Editor, you queried the number of first-time students vis-a-vis repeaters who sat the grade-four tests last year. The number of students registered to sit the GFLT in 2014 was 44,890 - these were all first-time sitters. However, 40,978 grade-four students actually sat the exams. The additional students who pushed up the figure to more than 50,000 were repeaters who were in grade five. As you requested, the statistics shared with the public are already disaggregated, so the data on national percentage mastery concern only first-time sitters.
An anomaly exists, as your editorial noted, between the number of repeaters for the literacy and numeracy tests. This is so because, currently, students are required to attain mastery in literacy at grade four in order to be able to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test. A decision has been taken to review this policy to ensure that students are required to show mastery in both literacy and numeracy.
Finally, Mr Editor, you questioned why six per cent of enrolled students did not sit the Grade Four Numeracy Test in 2014? Some 4,000 students were also absent from the literacy exam. Many factors contribute to the absence of students from examinations, including the grade four tests. In response, the ministry has engaged seven social workers who are working with the regional offices and guidance counsellors to address the issues that impact students' attendance and performance in school. The message to parents - to consistently send their children to school - is one that needs the support of the media.