Paradigm shift - Oracabessa High doing well in mathematics
ORACABESSA, St Mary:
In what has been described by Vice-Principal Donovan Thomas as a "paradigm shift," a programme aimed at increasing the pass rate in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) mathematics examination has yielded results beyond expectations at Oracabessa High School in St Mary over the six years it has been in place.
Mathematics teacher and head of the math department at the school Ian Johnson said that the school recorded the highest pass rate for mathematics in its history when it reached a mark of 55 per cent in this year's examination.
The school's pass rate compares favourably with the national pass rate as it surpasses the 2017 national pass rate of 49 per cent and falls just two percentage points below this year's rate of 57 per cent.
For the last six years, Oracabessa's pass rate has been above the national average three times when compared head to head. There is quality in the passes, too, with nine students getting range one in the exam this year from a total of over 80 students who sat the exam.
The school also boasts several students who, over the period, have passed CSEC mathematics while in grade 10 and even grade nine.
One such student is Subrina Campbell, who gained a distinction in the subject after sitting the exam earlier this year while still in grade nine. She is currently in grade 10.
Six years ago, it was a pass rate of 10 per cent that stared the administration in the face and spurred principal Paul Lofters into action as they sought to fix what was then an alarming situation.
Johnson, who has led the transformation, said the principal and the entire academic staff have been supportive of the programme. He began the programme when his tenure started at the school in 2012.
The journey, he related in an interview with The Gleaner, has not been easy. The first hurdle was to get the students and parents to buy into the idea that hard work had to be done not just to increase the number of students passing math at the institution, but to have them pass with better grades.
... Math camp started to boost performance
The first move was to start a math camp during the two-week Easter break, which at first failed to attract encouraging numbers. But persistence by Johnson and his team paid off, and gradually, the numbers picked up as students, supported by parents, bought into the idea.
"We started the programme to turn around the institution because we realised that the students were not getting the type of performance that we wished for," Johnson explained.
"So what we did was, we started setting (hosting) a lot of extra programmes, one of which is a CSEC camp in April during the Easter period, which, up to this year, attracted 150 students, inclusive of grade 11 and some grade 10 students. The students live on during the two weeks, we teach them, they study at nights, put in a lot of work. We also have external people coming in to assist us, and that has been going on for the last six years."
... No charge for extra classes
The camp is the backbone of the school's success in mathematics as it started fostering a sense of dedication to the subject and a belief by students in their ability to handle math. Capitalising on that, the school added other measures.
"We have weekend classes also and during the week because we're a shift school. Students who are on the morning shift stay back for extra classes, and those on the evening shift come in early for extra classes."
There is no charge to students for the extra classes. Students who live on campus during the two-week Easter camp are required to contribute towards their meals.
"I'm definitely pleased with the results," Johnson said. "And of importance to note is that we are ranked, in terms of mathematics, in the top 10 in Jamaica in upgraded high schools, and that is a ranking done by The Gleaner's Bill Johnson."
From the perspective of vice-principal Donovan Thomas, the 450 per cent increase in the pass rate for mathematics over the six-year period means much more than just numbers.
"If this is not a paradigm shift, then tell me what it is," Thomas argued.
"I feel strongly that we are among the top schools in mathematics on the north coast. Even if our numbers don't match up with traditional schools, the fact that we're an upgraded high school, getting students who would have reflected, when they come in at grade seven, reading below a grade six level. Most of them are reading at grade four, grade five. We have students who are reading at pre-primer and at basic school level because they are at risk. Yet, we have students who are coming out of those programmes, remedial as it is, who are able to come here and pass math, among other subjects. If it's not a paradigm shift, then tell me what it is.
"When I say a paradigm shift, what I mean is that upgraded high schools seem to have been the Cinderella in the system because we get the students with the lower grades, yet still we are able to bring them up to get a range one in a subject with straight As. It's a change in the attitude, it's a change in the values, it's a movement, what we are doing."