Editorial | Mr Reid’s jig
Ruel Reid, the education minister, tried for a fancy twirl in attempting to extricate himself from the mess he has woven in his obdurate and self-indulgent insistence on forging ahead with the new Primary Exit Profile (PEP) tests during the first quarter of next year.
The minister, after his press conference last week, will claim exculpation. Sensible watchers will have seen a clumsy jig.
The shame of it is that there is consensus in Jamaica on the concept of PEP, that is, the creation of a curriculum and testing mechanism for the island's primary schools that train children to think critically and adequately prepare them so that at age 11 or 12, at grade six, they are ready for secondary education. The Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), which was developed with the same intent, and has been in place for two decades, by general agreement, failed to deliver on the expectations.
Ill-prepared for PEP
The problem, though, is that, as most Jamaicans are aware, the system is ill-prepared for PEP, if it is delivered in its fullest sense, and performances under it are to start at the highest level. For while the curriculum was in development for several years and its roll-out began in 2017, by the education ministry's own admission, deep engagement by teachers is only recent. Indeed, most teachers in the primary system, accustomed to pedagogy by rote, are weak in the art of critical thinking. Substantial retrofitting is required.
We expect, therefore, that when the first PEP tests are done next year, there will be a good deal of fudging to ensure that all seems well and for Minister Reid to declare his acquittal.
The lack of readiness for PEP was revealed only recently when the real results of a mock exam, of the performance task component of the test, done in June by grade-six students, were wrangled out of the ministry through parliamentary questions. It was discovered that of the 37,500 students who did the exam, a mere 1,379, or 3.7 per cent, met the standard in maths. For social studies, the 'standard met' criterion was reached by 7.6 per cent. In language arts, it was 32 per cent.
Months earlier, in reporting on the results, Mr Reid, in a mumbled conflation of the 'standards met' and 'standard nearly met' criteria, had caused the outcomes to appear far better, if not great. In social studies, for instance, Mr Reid reported that 52 students had returned "satisfactory" performances, while in maths, it was 48 per cent, and 83 per cent in performance tasks. The minister's "great concern" was that only 22 per cent did satisfactorily in science.
In the face of an outcry over what the public perceived to be a conflation of two standards, Mr Reid has now offered a definition of 'standard met' and 'standard nearly met', not of one being below the benchmark, no matter that it may have been close to the minimum expectation, but of both being within the same pantheon of achievement.
"The situation is no different when one considers the different classes of degrees awarded by a university ... ," Mr Reid said. So, 'standard nearly met' might, in this estimation, mean getting an upper second- rather than first-class honours. Really?
"It was always clear that 'standard met' and 'standard nearly met' convey or denote different levels of achievement" and that both represented "satisfactory/acceptable performance levels", according to Mr Reid. Clear to whom? And when so declared? By whom, before last week?
Mr Reid also claimed that the mock exam was deliberately pitched "at a high level" to determine how students would respond and to develop baseline data. Whatever that means!
We would have thought that a pilot exam would closely track what was to be done in the real scenario to get an appreciation of what to expect when that circumstance arose. But since that test was pitched so high, there can now be a dialling back. The test will be easier. No harm done to the children. Mr Reid has an explanation to give.