Sun | Mar 24, 2019

Letter of the Day | The measure of a student: Growth vs proficiency

Published:Saturday | February 23, 2019 | 12:18 AM


If not professionally obligated, I feel compelled as a parent and a citizen with grounded views on education to lend my voice to this ongoing monologue surrounding the reform of Jamaica’s educational system. It appears that each wave of political policies creates new contours at ad hoc points along the education “reform” landscape.

The creators of these contours have claimed for the past 15 years to hinge their effort on a wild interpretation of recommendations put forward by the Dr Rae Davis-led Task Force report on Educational Reform in 2004.

With the bungling of the implementation of the National Standard Curriculum (NSC), it has become glaring that with each policy failure, we seem bent on making true the age old definition of insanity as we cling to the notion that high-stakes standardised testing is a precise barometer to be used to determine the progress of students.

This has been the anchor once more of our public discourse surrounding the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). Our only concern seems to be how well our students meet proficiency standards (period). We have obviously forgotten that PEP by itself isn’t the newly implemented NSC. Yet, all our discussions prior and subsequent to the start of the new school year have had little to do with the full and purposeful implementation of the curriculum from grades one to nine.

Do teachers have support?

What is my primary concern? Have we been providing the support for our teachers (in a substantive way) to deliver on the objectives of the NSC, particularly PEP? Don’t you dare utter the word “workshops”!!

What “on-the-ground interventions” were injected into the system prior to the NSC’s implementation? None!

If there were, my 10-year-old daughter would not have been sent home on the weekend to go figure out (hopefully with the help of parents/guardians) how to complete an assignment that introduced the concept of a hypothesis and required her to identify anomalies in an experiment, interpret the results, identify data patterns and trends, determine the reliability of results while being asked to represent a summary of the results in the form of a chart/graph.

Note, I said that this assignment was used to introduce these concepts. I must admit that it would be reasonable if one were to declare that the teacher ought to have known better. Any teacher (not in training) should know that you never use an assignment to introduce a new concept.

Furthermore, you should be able to tell that the areas covered in the assignment would require several well-planned and executed lessons to adequately develop a child’s understanding of and ability to apply these concepts.

Unfortunately, what this “weekend event” demonstrated is the perpetuation of a climate that compels teachers to “teach to the test”. However, unlike its predecessors, the PEP burden of ensuring and testing proficiency is no longer left on the shoulders of our grade five teachers as it was during Common Entrance or the grade six teachers during the GSAT error (oops, I mean era). Now, the albatross has been secured around the necks of all teachers, especially grades four to six.

It is time for us in education to start a serious, evidence-grounded discussion around high-stakes testing, which is currently purposed for ranking/student placement versus the use of formative, teacher constructed types of assessment that support student growth, which, ultimately, allows them to thrive.