Fri | Jun 18, 2021

Grade four and five performance tasks should be cancelled

Published:Saturday | May 8, 2021 | 12:12 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam

On Monday, May 3, 2021, I attempted to submit a petition online to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). The OPM’s website indicates that the submission should be reviewed for inappropriate content, etc. and then should be available for persons to sign. However, nothing has happened and the issue is of urgency and importance. I have sent a follow up e-mail to OPM and the response has been silence, so I have decided to write you with the full text of the petition. It is below:

On April 30, 2021, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information released a bulletin announcing that performance tasks for grades four and five would proceed in June, despite having announced nearly two months before the cancellation of grade six Performance Tasks. The grade five performance tasks are to take place only a month and a half after the bulletin, and grade four just short of two months. These are tight timelines. The Government is petitioned to cancel the grade four and five performance tasks, and here are some additional relevant considerations:

1. Children are not being vaccinated against COVID-19 but are at risk of both contracting and spreading the virus, including by travelling to and attending testing facilities. Teachers and staff would also not have been fully vaccinated. The reasons for restricting face-to-face learning also support minimising physical presence for testing. There is no sufficient gain to outweigh the health risks to the children and staff, their families and the population.

2. It is well-known that there are significant challenges to students learning online, and it is even more difficult the younger they are. There are also significant disparities in the abilities of the children to learn using the current modalities, not reflective of their true abilities. It is not fair and reasonable to require these 8-10-year-olds to undergo testing with placement consequences not needed for this year in the circumstances.

3. It had been suggested that doing the performance tasks would be more like a regular school day in feel. Regardless of whether that argument was good ordinarily, it is not now. Many children have spent all or most of the year learning remotely, but the plan is for them to be brought into school for two days for a brief period of face-to-face teaching and then testing. That is less an assessment of ability and more a test of how they can manage anxiety in this unusual context at a young age.

4. Assessing children in grades four and five toward secondary-school placement is still new. It is not best to pursue those early year assessments in the middle of a pandemic.

5. There is adequate opportunity to plan for and administer the grade 6 papers to be used for assessment and placement next year for the class of 2022 and the year after that for the class of 2023 – more opportunities in the grade 6 year than there had been under GSAT.

6. The points the Ministry of Education made against having grade six performance tasks this year generally apply with equal or greater force to the children in grades four and five with over a year of primary education to go.

7. Consideration must be given to the psychological and emotional state of these young children, and to making the challenges worse by adding the high stakes involved in doing tasks for assessments that may/will be used for placement as well. This is in a context where the performance tasks will need them to be calm and able to think clearly to properly show their abilities.

8. There may be unintended psychological consequences for the children if the results are disappointing, which may negatively affect them moving forward for another round of Primary Exit Profile Assessments next year – especially factoring in the young age of these students. They may not be able to as easily walk away from the disappointment as the ministry might.

Since my submission of that petition, the Minister of Education has announced the resumption of face-to-face instruction for students doing exit examination, but including only grade six at the primary level. Grades four and five have not been addressed, although I do not think they can be at this stage by anything other than cancellation for the current academic year, as these are curriculum-based writing assessments for which students need considerable support to properly prepare them.

I am hopeful that good sense will prevail, and soon.

MARIA VOZ