Thu | Oct 21, 2021

Verona Antoine-Smith | CAPE & CSEC exam results: Urgent matter for review

Published:Wednesday | October 7, 2020 | 12:07 AMVerona Antoine-Smith/Guest Columnist
Dr Wayne Wesley
Dr Wayne Wesley

Last month, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) released the 2020 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results.

Of note, two Information Technology (IT) CAPE grades were compared. Student A received a grade one with a profile of C-D-C for Theory, Productivity Tools and Programming, respectively; while Student B received a grade two with a profile of A-A-C.

This discrepancy is but one of a myriad of inconsistencies arising from this year’s release of CAPE and CSEC results. In August, CXC’s registrar sought to assure candidates, their parents, prospective universities and employers who rely on the integrity of the examining body that the results from the new exam format would be “valid, equivalent and fair”. However, in light of the various anomalies, all stakeholders need to consider whether or not this is truly the case.


Prior to the start of the exams, CXC introduced a revised examination strategy in which school-based assessments (SBAs) or internal assessments (IAs) along with one common paper, Paper 1, would be administered to determine students’ final grades. Paper 2, weighted 50 per cent, would not be administered, but critical to note, the registrar emphasised that the weighting of the other components would remain the same. That being said, what other meaning could anyone derive? Implicitly, he suggested the marking scheme, pass mark and profiles would remain the same. Therefore, if CXC actually used another construct to produce final grades, it would amount to being disingenuous and could jeopardise their integrity.


After the exams were administered, CXC’s registrar again addressed stakeholders, emphasising the need for equivalence; that is, ensuring that each year “candidates who earn the same grade demonstrate the same level of performance”. In other words, if every year approximately 50 per cent of Jamaican students pass CSEC maths, then this year, no matter how easy the exam, grades MUST reflect the same 50 per cent plus or minus a few percentage points. And if they don’t – they will be manipulated until they do.

But why wasn’t this communicated to candidates prior to the sitting of the exams? It would certainly have provided an opportunity for parents who were uncomfortable to consider their options.

The truth is, equivalence cannot truly exist in this year’s exams because Paper 2 was not assessed. It is this paper that best demonstrates students’ level of reasoning and use of knowledge. Moreover, the 2020 exam was administered during a pandemic, an unprecedented era; can CXC quantify the true impact of that type of atmosphere on their candidates and their performance? Or are they more concerned that a sharp increase in grades 1-2, arising from students sitting Paper 1 only, would damage the credibility of their examination body?


Responding to concerns about student expectation not matching the grades they received, CXC registrar, Dr Wayne Wesley, in a ‘Beyond the Headlines’ interview, explained that students could not know their final SBA scores, as they were all moderated. Every single SBA and IA was moderated by CXC. Has anyone ever picked up a lab book, per se, for CSEC chemistry and examine the 20-plus labs; each with tables, graphs, calculations, etc? It is no easy task to peruse all of those lab books, and if indeed they had the manpower to recheck and recalculate every single one of them, then why didn’t they allow the students to sit their Paper 2? One of the reasons given for omitting that paper was the lengthy marking process.


CXC’s website does not provide any information about pass marks or the percentile range associated with each grade which would enable candidates to readily quantify what a specific grade represents. However, it has long been believed that a grade 1 is awarded for scores ranging from a minimum of about 70 or 75 per cent of the sum of all papers and SBAs combined.

This year, rumour has it that CXC increased the pass mark by shifting the percentile ranges upwards for each grade. But what specific percentile range constituted each grade level for the 2020 CSEC and CAPE exams? Were all multiple choice items equally weighted? How was ‘the trend’ in teachers’ predictions used, if any at all, to determine a student’s final grade?

A student who got 18/20 for her SBA projected she got at least 52/60 on Paper 1; how does she end up with a grade four? There are too many unknown factors. It’s like students signed an agreement without knowing its terms and conditions. Transparency is lacking.


Last month, there was a similar uproar from British students related to the manner by which the examining body, OFQUAL, arrived at their final grades. The calculated grades based on a mathematical model were eventually abandoned and replaced with teacher-predicted grades. Important to note, upon making the change, OFQUAL acknowledged that some students’ grades would have been lowered. So to resolve same, they advised all the stakeholders that students were allowed to retain the higher of the two grades. The point is, the examining body exercised leniency and flexibility.

Students did not bring this pandemic on themselves. The region’s students are no different. They did not choose to sit Paper 1 only. They complied at every point of the process, and in the best interest of transparency, credibility and integrity, CXC needs to stop glorifying the awarded grades as ‘fair’ and review them. Now, that is fair!

The confidence of our 2020 candidates must not suffer at the hands of the region’s examination mogul. Their hard work must be properly compensated and not merely skewed to fit on a curve so as to maintain equivalence.

As parents, we welcome the news that an independent review team will be addressing the concerns of our children. We trust that Minister of Education Fayval Williams will be resolute in her quest to unmask the real grades that students achieved prior to the adjustment for equivalency.

CAPE and CSEC candidates were taught. They revised numerous past papers with their teachers. They went into those exams prepared and executed. CXC, please give credit where credit is due … and distinctions, respectively.

Verona Antoine-Smith is a teacher in a public secondary school. She holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. Email feedback to and