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CSEC results don't tell the whole story

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

R. Howard Thompson, Guest Columnist

Let me compliment The Gleaner on its editorial on August 14, 2014, titled 'Holding education whoops for now'. While I, too, am pleased with what seems to be a significant improvement of the CSEC results in math and English, we must examine closely what the figures really represent.

Apart from the points The Gleaner raised, which were all valid, we need to find out how much of the improved performance shown statistically is linked to new policies which I know have been adopted by several schools, specifically aimed at improving the statistical profile of exam results.

In recent years, many schools have stopped sending up students for subjects in grade 10, especially math and English. They have even gone as far to make it compulsory for students to do these subjects in grade 11, even when they passed them in grade 10 outside the school. In this way, they ensure that the results of their best students would be registered in the statistics used to rank schools. In other words, the school must adjust its policies to conform to the ignorance of the statisticians.


What concerns me about these administrators is that they are quite comfortable in keeping back their brighter students to please the jokers who do the ranking. I do not believe that they are not intelligent enough to see that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system used to rank schools, but it is clear that they lack the courage to say so publicly.

Those to whom I have spoken on the subject have expressed the view that it is nonsense to rank schools using that sort of data. Anyone who wants to know why needs only to read the introduction in any textbook on measurement in education.

As you point out, the pass rate ignores the 44 per cent of the grade-11 cohort who were screened out, thereby defeating the purpose of sending them to high school in the first place. However, when you enquire about how many students reach the benchmark of five subjects in a single sitting, I must ask why it is important to you that these subjects be all taken at the same time.


A more relevant question would be to find out how many students reached that benchmark after five years of schooling. It should be of no consequence that some were done in fourth form.

I still maintain that using these figures to rank schools is both unfair and counterproductive. It sends the wrong message to parents who then end up making wrong-headed decisions about their children's education. Many children who end up struggling to find the subsistence to attend 'name-brand' schools would probably do much better at schools to which they could walk.

Your newspaper would do a great service if you spent some time and space highlighting the number of students who achieve excellent results after attending the less-lauded schools. We need to convince parents that what really makes the difference between success and failure is the support given to their children even after they leave school.

The minister must be complimented for his efforts to provide extra support at some institutions. Almost all of our efforts need to be directed towards keeping students in a supervised learning environment for as long as possible.

R. Howard Thompson is an educator. Email feedback to and