Editorial | More transparency in PEP, please
No matter how much Karl Samuda and his technocrats contort themselves and attempt to conjure an alternative reality, they can’t alter facts. And the fact is that the results of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) for grade six students are poor. Sensible people knew that would be the case.
But as bad as the results appear to be, they could well be worse. For what the education ministry has released are data on the scaled performance of students, rather than their raw, or average, scores based on tests and coursework. Much can be hidden that way. In the end, these results are testimony to the hubris of the disgraced former education minister, Ruel Reid, who, over the advice of rational voices, pushed through the new assessment regime at least two years before the system was ready for it.
PEP replaced the two-decade-old Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), which is supposed to assess the readiness of 11- and 12-year-olds for secondary education. No one questioned PEP’s primary aim of promoting critical thinking among students and of continuously assessing their progress through primary school, as against the accumulation of facts, in a torrid preparation for a single exam, to which GSAT was reduced, despite its initial intent.
But while Mr Reid, fired in February in the face of a corruption scandal, pushed relentlessly for this year’s introduction of the PEP tests for grade six students, the absence of readiness became increasingly clear. Many teachers didn’t have the new syllabuses and, more critically, didn’t have the pedagogic skills to meet the new paradigm. It matters not where the fault of the knowledge gap lay, or how many workshops teachers failed to attend.
What is important are the results of this first PEP assessment.
In mathematics, only 40 per cent of the more than 41,000 students were either highly proficient (six per cent) and proficient (34 per cent). For science, the ratio was 49 per cent – with seven per cent being highly proficient.
There were better performances for social studies (63 per cent) and language arts (55 per cent) in the overall proficiency categories, but even then, for those subjects, 37 and 45 per cent of students, respectively, didn’t make the cut for proficiency.
With regard to students deemed proficient in any subject, their test scores could be anywhere between 50 per cent and 79 per cent – a range of 29 percentage points. There are questions, therefore, of where on this scale the majority of students fell.
More critical to the assessment of the readiness of students to enter secondary schools than the direct scores are the scores of the students categorised as developing and beginning, whose ranges, respectively, are 25 per cent to 49 per cent, and zero per cent to 24 per cent. Fifty-four per cent of students in math, 44 per cent in science, 34 per cent in social studies, and 36 per cent in language arts fell into the former (higher) of these categories. Happily, fewer than 10 per cent of students fell into the beginning category, where students displayed no, or little, competence, given their grade and age levels.
It is true that the crisis in education highlighted by these results is not new. What we don’t know from these outcomes is the real extent of the problem. Rushing PEP didn’t provide the best basis for the start of a new assessment and the scaled scores don’t, in the absence of more, allow for a deeper analysis.
Teachers in secondary schools will have their hands full when the next cohort of grade seven students arrive in September, even as they continue to prepare themselves to manage the new curriculum.
We are where we are. Fixing the problem belongs to all Jamaicans, who can’t help without transparency from the authorities.