Irregularities push education ministry to tighten up on SBAs
The Ministry of Education has revealed it will this month implement stricter guidelines for the management of the Caribbean Examinations Council's (CXC) school-based assessments (SBAs).
The move comes just over a year after The Sunday Gleaner broke news that CXC had revoked the grades for 70 Jamaica College (JC) students who sat physics in the 2013 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) at the school.
That decision had been made after CXC officials weighed and measured reports of irregularities with the SBAs for CAPE physics submitted for the entire sixth-form cohort at JC.
Dr Didacus Jules, chief executive officer of CXC, had informed JC Principal Ruel Reid, in writing, that the probe had revealed that students were instructed to plagiarise previously written labs.
Jules also highlighted in his letter to Reid, that the JC principal had admitted that there was "unethical and unprofessional conduct" on the part of teaching staff.
SBAs are projects that students are required to produce for individual subjects. The marks awarded are then counted towards students' final results in the CXC examinations.
Though the ministry did not make reference to the incident at JC, it did indicate that the new SBA management guidelines were in response to allegations of malpractice on the part of some students and school personnel.
"Against this background, the new measures seek to standardise and improve accountability in the system of SBA production, with the ultimate goal of eliminating malpractice," the ministry said. "They are also intended to ensure that the works produced reflect the students' efforts and, importantly, contribute to the development of lifelong skills, including independent academic research."
In administering their SBA systems, schools are now required to comply with a rigorous set of standards and expectations in six key areas. These include internal quality assurance, accountability, communication, monitoring, teacher support, and school readiness.
Education officers will continuously monitor schools to ensure compliance with these standards. Additionally, a team of assessors from the ministry will evaluate schools, as required during the active SBA period each year, to determine how well their administrative systems comply with the required standards.
Non-compliance may result in students' overall performance being negatively impacted, since SBAs represent between 20 and 70 per cent of students' final examination grades in some CXC subjects.
Explaining the six key areas of the new standards-based SBA management system, Chief Education Officer Dr Grace McLean noted the importance of ensuring internal quality assurance. She emphasised that schools were now required to have clearly outlined quality standards for SBAs in each subject, ensure that assessment and standardisation of scoring is done regularly, ensure that sampling of teachers' work by heads of departments is done, and ensure that malpractice by students and administrators is prevented.
McLean said schools must have accountability measures in place. These include defined roles, responsibilities, sanctions and alternatives in their SBA administrative systems. The chain of command must also be clearly articulated, documented and communicated.
McLean emphasised the need for schools to have in place an effective communication system that includes written schedules for the completion of SBAs; established procedures to inform teachers, parents and students of their expected roles; and well-established channels to report on issues and challenges.
TEACHER SUPPORT KEY
She also noted that schools should implement a monitoring system to evaluate the progress of teachers and students towards the completion of quality SBAs on time, and ensure there is alignment between curricula content and the SBA.
Stressing the importance of teacher support, McLean said teachers must ensure that the quality of the SBA task is aligned to CXC standards and to the skills and competencies students are expected to acquire at that stage of their learning. Teachers are also expected to provide quality advice and feedback to students and parents, and to monitor students' progress towards producing quality SBAs.
In addition, she said schools were now being assessed for their state of readiness in terms of teachers being trained in the subject areas they teach, availability of materials and resources for specific subjects, provision of adequate amenities, and space for the storage and retrieval of SBAs.
The ministry said the development of the new SBA management guidelines was a collaborative effort between the National Education Inspectorate and the Overseas Examination Commission (OEC).
This followed the surveying of a sample of high school principals and students islandwide as well as the reviewing of literature and best practices on SBAs locally and internationally. According to chief inspector Maureen Dwyer, a set of supporting documents has been developed. These include a number of instruments to assist school administrators and ministry officials in implementing the new SBA management system. It was piloted in 31 schools in November last year.
In the meantime, Hector Stephenson, CEO for the OEC, has welcomed the new SBA-management guidelines, noting that they provide schools, which are not up to standard, with the methodology to improve their systems while highlighting where best practices already exist.