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Paulton Frankson | Penwood and accountability

Published:Tuesday | September 13, 2016 | 9:00 AMPaulton Frankson

Up to Sunday, there was no clear indication whether approximately 40 students who sat CSEC exams at Penwood High this May and June will get their grades in six subjects because of foul-ups involving the adults who just did not give a damn.

That means there is still uncertainty about whether most of the students will move on to other educational pursuits such as sixth form this school year, which is almost two weeks old.

In any case, whether they will move on is of no moment. They did all they were required to, but their adult superiors did not keep their end of the bargain.

 

Principal wasn't aware of issues

 

Principal Donna McLaren told this newspaper that she was not aware that the samples of the students' school-based assessments (SBAs) were not submitted by CXC's July 31 deadline until the exam body called her school on August 8 to enquire. CXC released the CSEC results on August 16.

CXC uses the samples to do quality checks for grades submitted for the SBAs and, ultimately, to award final grades to students.

McLaren also said she couldn't explain why the school's exam coordinator did not do like other schools that were facing problems using the CXC's online submission portal: submit the physical copies of the samples.

CXC, in a statement on the situation brought to national attention by a Gleaner August 25 report, admitted that there were problems with its electronic SBA submissions portal, an option Penwood chose.

According to the Barbados-based institution, it extended other deadlines for submissions but not the final cut-off time of July 31.

Penwood has provided evidence showing that the Overseas Examinations Commission (OEC), which administers overseas exams here, was aware of its problems with the electronic submission from May.

Those WhatsApp conversations between the exam coordinator and an official from the OEC have not been disputed by the commission.

The story goes that Penwood complained to the OEC that the portal had issues, which was not a fault of the OEC but of CXC's. Over several weeks, the school did not get through to the portal.

Eventually, when the issue was apparently fixed, the OEC sent information through an email address that the school had. Initially, the school said it did not receive the information, and by the time the OEC sent the information again, the school changed its email address - a development that was apparently not communicated to the OEC.

So, the exam coordinator continued to wait for the information until the July 31 deadline passed.

Amazing!

The principal and the OEC learnt that the submissions were not made until August 8 while the education ministry learnt of the very troubling situation on August 25 from this newspaper's report.

Amid all the problems that may not have been linked to the school, it is amazing that the exam coordinator allowed the deadline to pass without even contacting any authority about the situation - not even the principal.

Stunning, too, is that Ms McLaren made no checks, going by her admissions, whether the school had met all deadlines to ensure her students were in good stead to complete the examination process.

Already, some residents of Olympic Gardens, St Andrew, where the school is located, are claiming that such a major breakdown, leaving the students' ungraded, would not happen at 'bigger-name schools'.

 

Leadership problem

 

Penwood is not one of Jamaica's best-performing schools for a variety of reasons, of which one is leadership.

In 2013, Calabar High's Albert Corcho had to take up temporary leadership at the school, which was in turmoil owing to death threats against the then principal and violence that gripped the school.

A year later, the National Education Inspectorate rated Penwood's overall effectiveness as "unsatisfactory".

This is an opportunity for the ministry to revisit the school and see how things may have improved or, God forbid, got worse.

The OEC can throw a party about its 129-year history, but this case has highlighted weaknesses that it must accept.

The education ministry has announced several policy reforms arising from the Penwood situation, including reviews of protocols between schools, the OEC and ministry, as well as establishment of monitoring systems to meet CXC deadlines.

But it cannot stop there. The system failed because some of the people behind it failed, and Ruel Reid, who heads the education ministry, must demonstrate to the country that such a thing does not go unpunished.

PS: That the exam coordinator goes on eight months' leave starting this month should not stop the process of accountability.

- Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.