Sampling the PEP, not an easy step
The following is a submission from a group of parents of students who will be subject to the incoming Primary Exit Profile (PEP), which replaces the Grade Six Achievement Test, starting in the next school year. These parents, who have asked not to be identified, are also members of academia with a focus on education.
As concerned parents, we embrace the philosophy undergirding the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) and welcome the opportunity of critical thinking. However, if we are going to introduce this level of work, then we need to be prudent and start preparing our children in this fashion by fostering a particular thought pattern from the beginning of the primary level.
Having reviewed the sample mathematics test that was shared with grade-five teachers prior to the mock test being administered, there were several concerns raised with regard to the overall construct of the said test.
These concerns were centred around two perspectives that of measurement as well as grade level appropriateness.
Perspective of measurement
From a measurement perspective, a properly constructed test paper should have face validity, which means that it should resemble the subject being tested.
On this mathematics test, there are approximately 228 words on the first page. This compromises the face validity of the test. Additionally, the paper required the students to calculate the total surface area as well as the volume of a fish tank; these concepts are solidified at the grade nine to CSEC level, thus, compromising the content validity of the test. The average primary student is not likely to be able to manipulate this content adequately and produce the desired maximum output by way of a correct response.
Construct validity compromised
Construct validity is heavily compromised in the actual putting together of this paper. Students were asked to construct a fish tank; however, the question did not explicitly state whether the fish tank should have a glass base or not. What was actually stated was that the tank should have no cover and should be rectangular. At this point, it may be interjected that the writers of the test should take into consideration the possible experiential background of all students some students may never have actually seen a fish tank. In fact, some students may have fish tanks and be aware that some fish tanks have a metal base, hence the possibility of not determining accurately the total number of glass sheets needed for constructing this tank.
This paper requires a higher level of cognitive manipulation than that of the current average primary student. The students have to consider many variables under timed tests conditions. The students have to consider the budgetary allocations of the project, the dimensions of the table to hold the tank, the dimensions of the fish tank, the shape of the fish tank in relation to the material available, and the of the volume of water to be put in the tank in relation to total capacity of the tank. They also have to consider the type of fish to be selected in relation to the cost of each fish; the type of fish selected in relation to the volume of the water in the tank and, finally, the type of fish selected in relation to the behaviour of the other fish. After completing this task, the students must then create an equation in relation to the type of fish bought.
So as to not trick our students, by way of instruction, we must highlight critical information such as on the table on the test, the capacity of the water needed for each fish to survive.
Perception of assessment and accuracy
The construct of the entire paper begs the question: what will happen if a student should get an aspect of the equation wrong from the onset of the paper? If PEP models this sample test, this is of utmost importance as each aspect of this assessment could produce a different answer; additionally, these answers are highly subjective. We must remember that our students have not yet been immersed in this paradigm of thinking through creating scenarios.
On this premise, it is strongly believed that this type of assessment should commence at the grade-one level and progressively streamlined until students get to grade six.
We recommend that there be adequate sensitisation and training of ALL teachers not only in teaching from a project-based format, but also in how to assess and mark this form of assessment.
Cognition and self-esteem
A Mathematics test should be set at the cognitive level of the students who are sitting the examination.
Based on the previous numeracy results presented by the Ministry of Education, it is evident that this present examination has been set above the cognitive level of the average grade-five student. After administering the same test to a few interested 'math fanatics' and the results were discussed, it was felt that perhaps the test should be further reviewed and tailored to suit the cognitive level of the students, and also to be structured in a way to appeal to their experiential background as much as possible. The current batch of students, regardless of their cognitive abilities, will have difficulties with this type of examination. This will affect the children's self-esteem. Is this what we really want to do to our children? Can we really subject them to doing something that they were never prepared for? What about the children who have a challenge with literacy? The numeracy and literacy rate in the country is already of concern; without proper preparation, this type of assessment will demoralise the students, thus undoing the progress recently reported in both areas. Additionally, we must consider the disinterest and/or challenge typical Jamaican boys have with reading and the volume of reading required in this test; is this the most effective way of assessing our children's cognitive skills?
Let us be clear in reiterating the point that the philosophy behind PEP is exactly what we need to get our children prepared for 21st-century thinking in a global context. However, in this bid to put some pep in our children's steps into the wider world, perhaps it would be good to start at the beginning - grade one - and track the progress to the end - grade six.
To view samples from the PEP mock exam, see here.