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Pressure for primary school students - Pupils face four prime tests in six years

Published:Wednesday | April 25, 2012 | 4:00 AM
Students at Jessie Ripoll Primary School react after receiving news of their Grade Six Achievement Test results last year. - FILE

Deika Morrison, Contributor

IN THE six short years of primary school, Jamaican children have to take four major tests, in addition to regular school tests at the end of every term and in between.

These four major tests are held at grades one, three, four and six. The Ministry of Education gives all schools the Grade One Individual Learning Profile (GOILP), the Grade Three Diagnostic Test, the Grade Four Literacy Test and the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). The sheer volume of tests would lead one to wonder how a child has time to even learn anything in between all the testing.

Expected to learn

In fact, according to the curriculum, children are expected to learn quite a bit in between all these tests. The key word here is "expected" because, ideally, tests are meant to provide specific information about competencies and deficiencies so that corrective measures can be taken. If that is the case, then since knowledge builds on itself, the first test that we should ensure does accurately assess children is the first one they take. Today, that is the GOILP.

The GOILP is fairly new having been introduced in 2007/8. It replaces the Grade One Readiness Inventory. According to the Vision 2030 Education Sector report, the baseline (2007 or then current year) was that 48.4 per cent of children in the grade-one age cohort had achieved "mastery in the grade one readiness test".

Less than half of the children were "ready" for grade one. To make matters worse, the target was that 90 per cent of children would have achieved mastery by the year 2030. That is all of 18 years from now, and it wasn't even a target for 100 per cent readiness. It's a good thing the test was found wanting and was replaced!

Pick any inspection report for any primary school and the report will tell you how the students have performed in the GOILP, relative to the national average. The latest 2011 reports state the 2008 national results - by subject area and percentage of children deemed "proficient" - were 46.7 per cent in general knowledge, 67.1 per cent in number concept, 48.2 per cent in oral Language and 67.6 per cent in reading, and 62 per cent in writing and drawing. These are the basics for which less than half the children are proficient in some areas, and no more than two thirds of children are proficient in others. And those are national numbers. At individual schools, some do better and some do much worse.

Investing in education

We know that by, and large, children are not ready for primary school. We know we need to invest more in early childhood education. Neither of those facts is debatable. What we don't seem to be clear on is what exactly are the problems for each child and how to intervene, because these is no consensus on the GOILP's adequacy to evaluate the needs of children. Essentially, our children are taking a test for which the results are questioned and not used to help them progress. This defeats the point of testing.

How are we really expecting children to excel at the multiple levels of testing later, when more difficult concepts and materials should be mastered? For a child who is 'not ready', the entire primary-school experience could be completely frustrating and miserable, as he or she tries to catch up, but never does. This is, in fact, part of the value proposition for adequately investing in early childhood education - to make children ready to learn.

The Early Childhood Commission (ECC), mandated to supervise and regulate the early childhood sector, is about to begin working on a national-evaluation tool for four year olds. They need to be evaluated for real readiness in the main developmental areas - gross and fine motor skills (gross means big movements like running, fine means small movements like picking up things with finger), speech, social skills, emotional skills, brain development and their approach to learning.

According to the ECC, this evaluation tool will be specifically designed for Jamaican children and meant to identify what kind of support children need to go forward in the primary-school system. The idea is to be able to identify, before they enter primary school, which of the three categories children fall into: 1) need no additional support in the regular school environment 2) need additional support in the regular school environment or 3) need a specialised school environment.

Chance for intervention

The evaluation will be times to allow for a full year of intervention for those lagging developmentally, as well as specialised attention if needs be. The bottom line is that four year olds don't need a four-year-old version of GSAT. If we are to get the maximum return for the necessary investment in early childhood education, then we must have appropriate tools - which we agree on as a nation - to identify the problems and deal with them appropriately.

It is time for child-centric interventions, like evaluations that can best help children. We don't know when the ECC evaluation tool will be implemented, but we know we don't have 18 years to 2030 for all of our children to fully master the basics.

Deika Morrison is founder of Do Good Jamaica and managing director of Mdk Advisory and Consulting Ltd. Send feedback to deika@dogoodjamaica.org.