Cayman Islands students achieved record-breaking pass rates, including big improvements in English and mathematics, at the end-of secondary school exams.
An all-time high of 61.2 percent of students got five “level 2” passes – grade A*-C at the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or equivalent level.
The pass rate has doubled since the national curriculum was introduced in 2008 and, according to Cayman Islands chief education officer Shirley Wahler, Cayman students are leading the Caribbean and closing the gap with the United Kingdom. In the UK, 68.1 percent achieved level 2 in the annual GCSE examinations.
This year marked the first time more than half of year 12 students achieved five level 2 passes. There were key gains in core subjects, too.
In English, almost 70 percent hit the level 2 threshold, compared to 54 percent in 2012. In mathematics, the figure was 37 percent, a jump from 26 percent last year.
The results take into account the entire cohort, including all students who finish year 11, not just those who sit the final exams at end of year 12 – a key distinction compared to some other jurisdictions.
“We have spent years talking about how much we have to achieve,” said Ms Wahler. “It is time to stop for a second and recognize just how far we have come.
“This is a story of how we have overcome underperformance that had been entrenched for a very long time.”
Education officials would like to see further improvement, particularly in math. But for the first time they were able to point to real progress in what has been a problem subject regionally and internationally for decades.
Ms Wahler said the number of students achieving five level 2 passes – the international benchmark for school leavers – had been stagnant at around 25 percent for years. She said “aggressive education reform,” including the implementation of a British-style national curriculum, put the Cayman Islands on an upward trajectory with progressively better results every year since 2008.
She said officials have been fighting an entrenched belief within society that only a minority of students are capable of reaching that level.
Over the past five years, the number of students taking exams has almost doubled and only a tiny minority of pupils, who either leave the system early or don’t show up for exams, leave school with no qualifications at all.
Announcing the results to teachers during an educators conference Monday at Mary Miller Hall in Red Bay, Ms Wahler said the results show that students in Cayman are capable of matching students anywhere in the world.
She challenged teachers to take the system from “good to great,” ensuring that the progress continues in the years to come.
She acknowledged there is still significant work to be done, particularly in mathematics.
“For the first time, we have begun to see significant improvement in math at the end of high-school exams,” she said. “We can build on that by improving results all the way through.”
Clive Baker, senior policy adviser in the education ministry, said much of the work to improve results in mathematics is focused on younger age groups.
Improving results, he said, is like trying to turn around a super tanker – it is going to take time. But specialist programs, particularly in primary schools, are expected to yield even greater improvements in mathematics in the years to come.
“A lot of work is being done in the early stages of primary school and that will take time to bear fruit. There is no quick fix in math. If there was, we would have done it,” he said.
Tara Rivers, the education minister, said the results are encouraging and urged teachers to do their best to beat the record again.
“I want us to continue to build on this,” she said. ”Hopefully next year we can say the same thing. We need to recognize our success and keep building towards a better, safer, more accomplished school environment.”
Year Level 2 pass rate
* A level 2 pass is either A*-C at GCSE, 1-3 at CXC, or Level 2 B-Tec.