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Jamaica to lobby CXC for Penwood students' grades, but it could be in vain

Published:Friday | August 26, 2016 | 8:00 AMJovan Johnson

The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) has hinted that it would be difficult to get a change in the decision not to grade 40 Penwood High School students in six subjects because of the non-submission of required documents.

Education Minister Ruel Reid had announced that the Ministry of Education would lobby for the roll-back in the decision of the CXC after Gleaner revelations that Penwood did not submit samples of students' school-based assessments (SBAs), which the CXC uses, along with the written paper, to award a final grade to students.

By today, Reid is expected to get reports he ordered from Penwood and the Overseas Examinations Commission (OEC), the body that administers the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams locally on CXC's behalf.

"With those files, the minister will lead discussions with CXC Council, led by the chairman of CXC (Professor Sir Hilary Beckles), so we can have a favourable resolution so the students are not disenfranchised," Reid said.

But achieving that appears an uphill task as CXC spokesman Cleveland Sam has said that "as an examination board, we cannot be seen to be breaking our own rules".

Speaking on RJR yesterday, Sam said the organisation "sympathises" with the students but added that any decision to change the results would have to be carefully considered as a change "would put us in a legal battle further down the road if the matter comes up again and we do not do the same thing".

In the meantime, Penwood High is disputing assertions from the OEC that it only learnt this month that the school had problems using the electronic portal that the CXC provided for the submission of the samples.

WhatsApp communication

The school's principal, Donna McLaren, said the school submitted in its report to Reid, WhatsApp text messages on the issue from as far back as March between the school's examination coordinator and an official at the OEC.

In a July 7 message, the coordinator told the official that a procedure on submissions had not been received, to which the official committed to do checks.

In a July 29 message, the official noted that "glitches" with the system "might" have affected the online submissions.

The CXC's cut-off date for submissions was July 31.

CSEC results were released on August 16 - eight days after McLaren that said that the CXC broke news to her that they had not received samples for the affected subjects.

Asked on Wednesday if the OEC was aware of difficulties that the schools had in submitting SBA samples, deputy director Sharon Burnett said: "The OEC became aware of the problem experienced by the school (Penwood) in August."

Citing a "communication breakdown", which he refused to explain, the education minister told The Gleaner that Jamaica would be appealing on the grounds that the system was new and had issues.

He, however, said the school should have gone ahead with the physical submissions.

The CXC official, meanwhile, said he was not in a position to say whether the organisation had received complaints about the electronic submission.

Other schools had issues

Penwood's principal has admitted that other schools with similar problems submitted physical copies but, unknown to her, the coordinator at her school did not do likewise.

She said action would be taken against the coordinator, who goes on eight months leave, starting September.

Penwood High has said it will cover the costs associated with having the students resit the subjects in January or May-June next year if an appeal to the CXC is unsuccessful.

Opposition Spokesman on Education Ronald Thwaites said the situation was "disgraceful" and administrators at Penwood should be held accountable.

The affected subjects are principles of accounts, office administration, economics, theatre arts, principles of business, and social studies.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com