Teachers crafting CSEC submissions for students to earn better passes
With their own reputations – and that of their schools – on the line, many teachers have been making significant adjustments to school-based assessments (SBA) for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) candidates to ensure good pass rates...
With their own reputations – and that of their schools – on the line, many teachers have been making significant adjustments to school-based assessments (SBA) for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) candidates to ensure good pass rates and a suitable school ranking when the dust settles.
The SBA is the coursework component of examinations administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council, with the exception of French, human and social biology, Portuguese and Spanish.
The teachers, who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner on condition of anonymity, say that with the poor quality of work submitted by the students – many of whom have been seriously affected by connectivity issues in the remote learning arrangement in place for more than a year now – they have no other option but to do the work themselves.
A St Catherine-based teacher noted that “fixing up the SBAs for students is not just a COVID-19 thing” as historically, her school gets the low-performing students from the primary school exit examination.
She lamented that over the years, the performance of students on SBAs has got worse, and now with the current global pandemic cutting off the access of some students to continue their exam preparation and work on their SBAs, she and many of her colleagues now have to be “basically doing the whole SBA for the students”.
“If we are to send in the work that the students give us, many of them would fail,” she said.
A Clarendon-based grade coordinator and senior teacher told The Sunday Gleaner: “My co-workers who are marking SBAs are the ones doing most of it. You give deadlines, [then] you don’t see the students. You have to make up a grade and if or when they turn up, you fix it to match what you had put. These are the things that teachers have to be doing.”
“Most of the times we have to do the SBAs for them. They are lazy and we have to be begging and calling them, pulling out all the stops just to try to help them,” chimed in a male teacher at a high school deemed low-performing.
“I gave my students a deadline that has passed more than two days now and I am still waiting. Not one group has submitted their work,” the business education teacher said.
“They just don’t care. COVID-19 made it worse, but that was the general attitude of the students from before,” he said, also pointing out that the school usually receives low performers exiting primary school.
The educators believe that the Ministry of Education does not seem cognisant of the true state of the education sector concerning student performance and attendance.
“These are the struggles that the SBA teachers have to be dealing with. The struggle is real and the ministry behaves like it doesn’t understand the situation. This is what we are going through,” the grade coordinator lamented.
“We leave the drop boxes with the security at the gate of the school for them to drop off their SBAs. You sit and wait until night, waiting to see if any student will come because, in the long run, it’s you – the teacher – that is going to look bad,” she said. “And the Ministry of Education does not understand at all what we are going through.”
The matter seems to also extend to student attendance in online classes.
“They need to get field officers and go on the ground and get a true reflection of what is really happening. You can’t just sit in your office and take numbers because that is not a true reflection of what is happening,” the teachers agreed, referencing the daily attendance data collected by the ministry.
Questions sent by The Sunday Gleaner to the education ministry remained unanswered up to press time.
‘COVID-19 exacerbated comorbidities in education system’
Commenting on the anecdotes of teachers carrying out extensive edits on SBAs, president of the Caribbean Union of Teachers, Garth Anderson, said while the union has not had any formal discussion of the matter, “What we can say is that students and teachers are under severe duress to meet the requirements of SBAs for preparation for the final examination.”
He said that the pandemic has exacerbated the “comorbidities in the education system”, adding that while not condoning the practice, the union would not be surprised if teachers were, in fact, carrying out heavy edits to the SBAs “because majority of them (students) have been out of school due the pandemic and the locking down of institutions, relative to the spike of COVID-19 positivity rate across the region”.
Added Anderson: “In normal times, it was already a challenge for some students and teachers, depending on the level at which students are operating, to complete SBAs. So I can imagine, when you consider the unprecedented times that we are in, students not having any face-to-face contact, … I can understand the situation raised.”
He noted that while teachers who engage in such practices might be giving the students a fair chance to ultimately succeed, in the long run, this would not be to the benefit of the students as they would have missed learning the necessary skills to master the subject area.
Former president of the Association of Principals and Vice-Principals, Lynton Weir, sees the impact of COVID-19 and the minimal effort of some students and parents as contributing to the issues of poor performance.
“Through my communication with my teachers on the ground, I recognise that our students lack motivation. I think they are of the opinion that there is a way around education, and because of that, what you find happening is a lot of our students are not putting in the sort of effort that is necessary for them to do well in their CXC examination,” said Weir, principal of Old Harbour High.
He noted examples of SBA corrections suggested by teachers as a matter of guidance being ignored with students resubmitting the SBAs uncorrected.
“They are not willing to put in any more work and that, for us as educators, is very alarming as students are satisfied with just about anything,” he said of the culture of nonchalance among some students.
However, director of operations at the CXC, Dr Nicole Manning, said the while the SBAs are working as an assessment tool in the manner they were designed, “there is always room for improvement”.
“SBAs carry a heavy weighting in some instances and we want the students to succeed. So, in any way that we can provide that additional support, we will,” she said.
The CXC has provided several support tools to assist and train teachers in handling the responsibility of SBAs, she said. The regional examinations body has also recently reduced the SBA requirements by as much as 50 per cent in some subjects.
The Barbados-based Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) will be moderating all school-based assessments (SBAs) instead of samples from respective examination centres after a review last year found that some teachers were too lenient.
Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Jasford Gabriel admitted that the JTA was “familiar with a few cases of teachers being overly generous in marking SBAs”.
Tricia Thompson, a teacher of history and social studies at Titchfield High in Portland, said the quality of the SBAs submitted to her has been poor.
“Not many of them took up the offer to meet so we could go through SBA expectations [and] from what I have received, very few persons paid attention to the information that was sent by WhatsApp or the Google Classroom,” the 30-year veteran said.
“It has come down to the wire now and a number of students are now lifting things from the Internet. I suppose now that they are using the Internet more, they are now realising that everything is online, including ready-made SBAs,” Thompson said, adding that she has had to call out many students for plagiarism.
Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools President Linvern Wright believes the multiplicity of issues wrought by COVID-19 means that “CXC simply needs to be more flexible”.
“What we have been calling for is for CXC to understand that with the limited instructional time that students have been getting, the [parameters] that they have given us can’t be sufficient, and so you get these kinds of things happening,” Wright said of the anecdotes of teachers fixing SBAs.
“If this is really happening, it is undesirable because you want students to do their work and demonstrate competence,” the William Knibb Memorial High School principal said, charging that the CXC has not been as responsive to COVID-19 as needed.
“What you’d want them to say is, ‘There is an extension of SBA times’, so that teachers can give students a chance to review and redo sections that they find unsatisfactory, but CXC’s times have not changed. What you find now is that time is catching up on everybody,” Wright said.
“Nothing is wrong with giving feedback, but if you’re doing this for them, it can’t be something we condone, and that is why we want CXC to understand that they need to give more time,” he said.
Things are looking bleak this year and Wright is not excited about the students’ prospects for the upcoming exams.
“There is no way we can expect any kind of good results in the examinations coming up, given the kind of deprived operations we have had in place. We haven’t had the quality time or engagement. The quality of teaching, engagement and attention have suffered, so the quality of passes must suffer, too,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said teachers should not feel a sense of pressure to maintain the reputation of any school because “it cannot be a teacher’s responsibility to boost a school’s profile now. The truth is that anybody that is expecting any school or any child to be doing as if times were normal would be unreasonable”.