Math performance blamed for dip in exam results

John Gray High School

Cayman saw a slight dip in exam performance nationally in the 2015/16 academic year, with fewer students gaining five “good passes,” including math and English, at the end of their school careers.

2016-exam-tableA particularly tough year in math was cited as the key reason for the marginal drop, which follows multiple years of improvement.

The benchmark of five “good passes” of grade A* to C or equivalent, including math and English, is the most common barometer used for assessing school success in the British and Caribbean system.

Lyneth Monteith, the chief education officer, acknowledged the results generally had plateaued. She said there were bright spots, including significant improvements in science, and vowed that work is taking place across the system to make further gains.

John Gray High School Principal Jon Clark said the five-year trend showed significant improvements in exam performance. But he cautioned that further improvement would require serious long-term work with the lowest performing students, many of whom enter high school with severe reading difficulties and struggle to cope with the demands of the curriculum.

“I would say there are 20 percent that come to us with really poor literacy levels that have had a poor start in life,” he said. “Some of that is down to neglect; they haven’t had that upbringing where parents have taken responsibility for their early education, teaching them to read or write.

2016 Exam Data
Year 11 (400 students)

5+ Level 2 Subjects (including English and Maths) – 37.3%
7+ Level 2 Subjects (including English and Maths)- 28.3%

Year 12 (389 students)

5+ Level 2 Subjects (including English and Maths) – 45%
7+ Level 2 Subjects (including English and Maths)- 35%

“To break that plateau, it is really about impacting that group, trying to get through to parents that have never been engaged and work through those barriers where children have not learned to read and are misbehaving as a coping strategy.”

Of the Year 11 students who sat GCSE and CXC exams in 2016, 37.3 percent got level 2 passes, grade A* to C or equivalent, in five subjects, including math and English, down from 37.5 percent the previous year. More than half, 54.8 percent, got five good passes, not necessarily including English and math, up from 51.2 percent the previous year.

Of the Year 12 cohort, including those who sat exams at their respective high schools in 2015 and those who did re-sits and new qualifications at CIFEC in 2016, 45 percent got five level 2 passes including math and English – down from 47.8 percent the previous year. The figure without math and English was 66.6 percent, up from 63.7 percent the previous year.

Ms. Monteith said the results show that performance is broadly tracking on the same level as last year, though a bad year in math has affected the headline data.

Mr. Clark, who took over as head teacher of Cayman’s largest high school, John Gray, earlier this year, said he was pleased with the performance of the students, based on the predicted outcomes when he arrived.

He said some of the top students did better than ever, with John Gray tracking above the national average of 28.3 percent for students gaining seven or more good passes.

He said the school is focusing on the problem area of mathematics, which saw low results across the region, as well as working intensively with the children with the most severe learning issues.

Literacy screening in place

He said all students are now being screened at Year 7 to identify those who need extra help, particularly in literacy, which, he said, is the key to accessing the rest of the curriculum.

The national statistics for Year 11, the age when students leave John Gray, Clifton Hunter or Layman E. Scott high schools, show a 64.3 percent pass rate in English compared with 41.3 percent in math. It is a similar picture in Year 12, when students graduate from CIFEC, with 68.4 percent gaining good passes in English and 50.1 percent reaching the same level in math.

Mr. Clark said the results in English are impressive, and making further gains would involve seriously addressing the needs of the school population who had severe literacy difficulties. He said it did not make sense for some children to be thrown into a full high school curriculum, including foreign languages, when they were struggling to read and write in English.

“We probably need to take some brave decisions and say you are not going to do Spanish, you are not taking on another language, you are going to do English. For some students, we might have to say nothing is more important right now than to teach you to read and then we start working on the rest of the curriculum.

“We can’t personalize everybody’s education, but we can do what we can,” he said, adding that a new literacy coach and new teaching assistants would help.

“We are also trying to get the parents on board early. Even if they have never really learned to read or write themselves, we are trying to get them in and say we will provide the expertise – just back us up in what we are doing.”

“It is not just about better teaching. There are some kids here that are what we call learning cowards. They are scared of learning, scared of exposing themselves. We have to create that safe environment and get them working like crazy to get that level 2 English and math instead of running away from it.”


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