Failing ASTEP to be reformed
EDUCATION MINISTER Ronald Thwaites says changes are coming to the Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP) even as Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis yesterday reported a high failure rate and absenteeism in the primary level remedial programme.
Thwaites told The Gleaner yesterday that the inadequate outcomes of the ASTEP programme were disappointing but not surprising. He said the large majority of students who were referred to the programme had severe deficiencies of literacy and numeracy, adding that the programme was not geared towards correcting this.
"We have, therefore, reformed the ASTEP for 2015 into a system of alternative pathways which speak to the differing aptitudes of the students who don't do well at grade four and cannot improve enough to take the GSAT examination," Thwaites divulged.
He said within a month, the Education Ministry would outline in a ministry paper the new modalities for addressing the needs of the ASTEP students, "several of whom have emotional, physical, and relational issues that have prevented them from doing well".
"We are sorry that it shows this outcome, but we are aware of it and are correcting it," Thwaites stressed in relation to the findings of the auditor general.
In her 2013 annual report tabled in the House of Representatives, Monroe Ellis reported that approximately 17 per cent, or 471 students, of the 2,711 who sat the ASTEP examination achieved the pass mark of an average 70 per cent and over for the two components. At the same time, another 23 per cent, or 630 students, were absent from the ASTEP exam.
Last year, the Ministry of Education reduced the average pass mark to 60 per cent; however, the auditor general found in 2014 that about 19 per cent, or 514, of the 2,685 students achieved the pass mark, and 691 students did not show up at the examination, representing 26 per cent of the cohort.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, under whose watch the ASTEP was conceptualised, said the poor results of the programme was an indication that it needed better management and more resources.
Holness said ASTEP was established to deal with students who would have passed through the primary education system but did not achieve full literacy, and, therefore, could not have taken the Grade Six Achievement Test.
According to Holness, ASTEP was set up to assist the 10 per cent to 15 per cent of students who did not make it in general education and required special attention and a greater depth of resources to address their issues. "Such a new programme requires hands-on guidance, and it requires the initiative and the energy of the policymakers and the technocrats to drive it to make it work," he added.
Another critical issue raised by the auditor general is the absence of guidance counselling services under ASTEP since April 2013 as the 29 counsellors' employment contracts were not renewed.
However, when contacted, Dr Grace McLean, chief education officer at the Ministry of Education, said they had already addressed the guidance counselling issue.
"There are guidance counsellors in our all-age and junior high schools that have been providing the counselling services for the ASTEP students, so there would have been no reason for us to continue having temporary guidance counsellors," she said.
"In 2013-14, we removed the ASTEP students from the primary schools and we placed them in all-age and junior high schools, and all these schools have guidance counsellors," she said.
The auditor general recommended that ASTEP investigate the high failure and absentee rates for examinations and take action to correct them to ensure that the ministry attains its goal of 100 per cent and 85 per cent for mastery in literacy and numeracy, respectively, by 2015.
Pertaining to the intervention strategies to address both the high level of absenteeism and the low pass rates for the test, McLean said the ministry had taken action.
"We addressed that as far as we could address it. We meet with the parents and encourage them as much as possible to send their children to school," McLean said.
"We also do a psycho-educational assessment of the ASTEP students for each year to assess their progress, and we do not send them on to high school, for example, until we have seen the improvement. Where we do not see the improvement, we have special strategies that we implement to make the difference," she added.