Some local high school principals are adamant that students should be allowed to sit their secondary level exit exams in July, as determined by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), or risk adverse impact on matriculation to tertiary institutions, particularly those overseas.
The principals also point out that further delay to the sitting of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) could upend the start of the new academic year for first-year tertiary students.
Their position runs counter to that of Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Owen Speid, who has castigated CXC for deciding that students across the region should sit exit exams in July, despite the danger of COVID-19.
Yesterday, principals also voted at a virtual meeting convened by the Overseas Examinations Commission and the education ministry in favour of the sitting of the exams in July-August.
Emerging out of an emergency virtual meeting on Thursday, the regional examination body has decided that CSEC, CAPE, and Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC) candidates will sit examinations in July.
CXC Registrar Dr Wayne Wesley explained at the meeting that the exam process would be modified for the award of valid grades and to preserve the integrity of the exam.
The appraisal, CXC says, will include a multiple choice assessment, school-based assessment, “and where applicable additional assessment components along with appropriate modelling accounting for historical data and teacher-predicted information as important calibration/quality check”.
Approximately 59,000 students here are expected to sit CSEC exams and 16,242 are to sit CAPE.
Principals interviewed by the Jamaica Observer yesterday believe that with COVID-19 being unpredictable and the majority of students already almost fully prepared, the education ministry should get the exams out of the way as soon as possible.
The educators point out that the three weeks lost in March when schools were closed are negligible, as students would have gone off on “study leave” in March/April, and started exams in April.
The principals fear that to postpone past July could jeopardise scholarships and the intake from the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) in September.
Principal of Ardenne High in St Andrew Nadine Molloy insists that there should be no further delay. “For me, straight up, July. It could very well be that closer to July we realise that the situation has changed health wise and we can’t accommodate it, but I believe we should go ahead and plan for July, put all the different measures that we can in place. We will have an entire plant to administer those exams, to apply physical distancing, if we want to bring the students back in for some kind of revision,” she stated.
Molloy said that given the current number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and if the trajectory continues, then there could be very few or no new cases by July.
“I see it being feasible because you have to think about a number of things. Students who are going to local institutions may not be as disadvantaged as the students who are going international. We have to take into consideration those who are in line for scholarships and would need their exam grades to complete that process,” she stated.
Molloy was joined by principal of another St Andrew school, Mona High, Kevin Jones, in pointing out that no significant contact time had been lost.
Jones explained that students prepare for these exams over a two-year period, and should not be affected by a few weeks of no physical teaching time.
“Schools closed three weeks earlier than usual and I don’t think three weeks would be a good reason to postpone CSEC, because a lot of schools complete their syllabus before March anyway, and then we would have had four additional months to complete the syllabi before the July exam,” he stated.
Molloy said, while students are ready, she was “sure there are those amongst us who would prefer to have their students come back for some type of face-to-face review [before the sittings], so I can see students benefiting [from that] even at the traditional high schools, as a kind of top-up, going into the exams”.
She stressed that students could be brought back to the classroom in an organised, deliberate and safe manner.
Both principals pointed out that while some subjects such as mathematics and English language would have a large number of students present at the school plants, there are other subjects which have much fewer candidates.
Jones said the real concern should surround effective social distancing, sanitisation of school plants for the exams, and increasing the number of invigilators.
He is also of the view that a mixed modality should be employed, with e-testing for the smaller exams, and paper-based for larger exams where the school does not have the required number of computers.
He said that commencing CAPE programmes in October would not be far off the mark, since sixth form classes usually get underway in the third week of September. However, a major problem would be presented if the first-year programmes are impacted, which could be the case if the exit exams are pushed back further than July.
However, principal of Cumberland High in St Catherine Darien Henry is cautious about a July sitting, arguing that readiness is not a one-size-fits-all situation.
“The issue of managing the pandemic and the educational process has really shone the light on the inequities in the system. Some schools may be ready to go in July, [but] my students are not ready, they are upended, they are stressed to be very honest,” he stated, adding that even after the reopening of schools, students will need deep psychological assessment and support.
“They are frustrated. Students are asking if they can’t come back to school to interact with their teachers, because they are just not ready to do the exams in July,” he said.
Henry is of the view that the exams could be pushed back to August to allow enough time to allow students to reacclimate to the teaching and learning atmosphere, so that they can be psychologically ready.
Excelsior High School Principal Deanroy Bromfield told the Observer that he is also in agreement with the July schedule.
The Government is expected to take a decision on the matter by next week.
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