CXC comes under more fire

THERE is renewed pressure on the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) to rectify the poor grades which it awarded to thousands of students who sat the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) exams this year, particularly those at schools with a history of high performance.

Principals, students, parents and other stakeholders have increased their clamour for redress, notwithstanding CXC’s explanations for the distribution of grades, which the independent team that reviewed the process, found were “slightly skewed”.

The call for greater transparency and for the grading mechanism to be made public, comes as negotiations begin for the 2021 sitting of CSEC and CAPE.

The Caribbean Coalition for CXC Exam 2020 Redress said yesterday that it will not relent until CXC resolves the grades.

The coalition is especially concerned about the scores received by students who have a history of exceptional performance and are insistent that CXC must fix what it believes are gross errors that go against the testing standards of fairness, reliability, and consistency.

At a virtual regional press conference yesterday, the coalition scrutinised the findings of the independent review team, refuting the idea that there was fault on the part of administrators, students, or incompetence by teachers with decades of experience.

Khaleel Kothdiwala, a CAPE student of Queens College in Barbados described the situation as “nothing short of a tragedy”, as he outlined the severe impact of the grades on students, some of whom he said are now stuck in academic limbo.

Principal of Jamaica’s Campion College Grace Baston said the school was “baffled as to the inexplicable decline in the quality of our passes this year”, with grades for some areas that were “absolutely unheard of” and “unknown to us”.

She outlined the dramatic decline in grade one passes for CSEC at the institution, renowned for its academic excellence and being one of Jamaica’s top-performing schools in both CXC and CAPE over the years. Campion also consistently has the most students on the CXC’s regional merit list for CSEC and CAPE.

Baston stressed the wide gaps between the predicted scores of teachers and actual test scores, pointing out that teachers are usually on point, or modest with their predicted scores. She said School-Based Assessment (SBA) scores for the sciences, for example, were moderated on site by agents of CXC, who confirmed teachers’ scores.

She also highlighted decreases from predicted grade ones for students who are known high performers, downward to as far as grade seven.

The principal pointed to the report of the independent review team which admitted that there was “slight skewness” in the distribution of scores, yet critical information on how “cut points” were established, were not made available.

She noted also the acknowledgement that the use of the statistical procedure for the grading process could have resulted in some degree of misclassification of profile scores/grades.

“That is deeply concerning to me. So how did we proceed with it? What did we do to mitigate that?” she questioned.

The review team also said the adjusted model which CXC used this year produced some degree of inter-grade shifting in the distribution of scores for some subjects, and that at the technical level the limitations of the grading model resulted in less than expected performance in some subjects for both CSEC and CAPE.

She emphasised that the anomalies do not apply generally to secondary schools across Jamaica, with most schools reporting welcome improvement in performance. However, she said, “The underperformance of some of the country’s strongest students leads us to wonder if there was some form of unintentional grade compression, which had adversely affected some high-performing students.”

She said CXC must, therefore, make public the process by which grades were assigned in 2020, and that if it is evident that certain students were put at a disadvantage, the council should immediately rectify the situation.

Other principals from top-performing high schools in countries such as Belize and Barbados, also lamented dismal scores, including no grades, awarded to top students.

Educational consultant Dr Michael Clarke said, having reviewed the data, his assessment was that the testing standard of fairness, validity, and reliability had not been met. He pointed to the report from the independent review, which indicated that the results were neither reliable nor valid.

Dr Clarke argued that the exclusion of paper two from the CSEC exams, which would require students to demonstrate knowledge of the subject area and improve their overall scores, had had a deleterious effect on those who would have otherwise done well.

He asserted: “When the potential for grade compression by elimination of paper two is compounded by a change protocol that results in students earning lower grades in one of the two remaining papers that are used for determination of grade awards, I cannot accept that this process was fair.”

The reasonable redress, he suggested, would be to regrade paper three in a manner consistent with the historic grading to recapture what reliability of scores there might be. “This will not address all ills, but it is something that is doable,” he remarked, noting also that an additional option would be to offer students the opportunity to sit paper two.

In a statement on behalf of the coalition, head of Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, Linvern Wright, said there was no intent to damage or hurt the reputation of CXC.

However, he said that in fairness to the affected students and for the sake of transparency, the coalition believed CXC needed to give a much better account for the inexplicable fall in the quality of performance of many of the region’s outstanding students by releasing, in its entirety, the mechanism used to compute the grades.

“CXC needs to make known cut off scores for 2020 in relation to other years so that stakeholders may understand better how it made allowances to ensure that this year’s marking did not disadvantage students already disadvantaged by the onset of a devastating pandemic,” said Wright. He noted that not even the review team had access to this data.

The coalition also criticised CXC’s delayed and piecemeal approach, despite the apprehension among students and administrators. Wright said this type of approach is frustrating and that grade reviews need to be communicated to schools clearly and quickly. “The review process, we feel, is punishingly protracted and needs to be handled with greater sensitivity to the plight of students awaiting such reviews,” he stated.

The coalition also wants CXC to explain why for subjects like the sciences where the multiple-choice marks are better and SBA’s moderated and signed off as outstanding by moderators, the quality of those grades declined below expectations.

He said, too, that CXC needed to account for poor performances, without suggesting that students did poorly on multiple choice examinations because they swatted. “It cannot be acceptable that most students did better but among the top-performing students the performances were poor in quality. Such anomalies in performance need to be much better explained,” Wright argued.

In October, CXC defended the integrity of this year’s modified approach to the regional exams, and the competence of the council. It blamed the grades, which have forced thousands of candidates to ask for a review, on deficiencies in the overall system.

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