School exam results stagnant

Four in ten students not reading at required level at end of primary school

Exam performance in Cayman’s schools has remained stagnant over the last three years, according to results in national education data reports published last month.

The data reports, for 2014-16, which include external exam results for students at the end of primary and end of secondary school, were released following a Freedom of Information request from the Cayman Compass.

The Department of Education Services has yet to respond officially to the open records request, but published the reports on its website and released them to members of the Education Council.

The data reports show that over the past three years exam performance has remained steady, with roughly half of the students going through the public school system graduating with “good passes” of grade C or higher in five subjects, including mathematics and English.

The data reports also include results of exams taken at the end of primary school, which show that in 2016, four out of ten students had not reached the expected reading level before moving on to high school at age 11.

The reports also show girls outperforming boys at every age group in all subjects.

Some of the “headline information” for secondary school exams had been released previously but the reports contain more detailed data.

In the Cayman Islands school system, students take external exams at Year 6 when they leave primary school, and at Year 11 when they leave high school, with an opportunity to retake some of those exams along with other qualifications at the Cayman Islands Further Education Center in Year 12, the final year of compulsory education.

The end of secondary school exams are known as GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and are graded on a letter scale, with “A*,” the highest grade, down to “G” , or CXCs, after the Caribbean exam board, which are essentially the same exams but follow an equivalent numeric scale were “I” is an A.

Both in the Cayman Islands and the U.K., where students also take GCSEs, schools are benchmarked on the basis of how many students achieve good passes of “C” or better (or equivalent) in at least five subjects, including the core subjects of math and English.

A “C” grade is equivalent to a 2.0 Grade Point Average in the American system.

Against that “five good pass” benchmark, Cayman’s schools have been steadily improving since 2011, when just one in four students left high school having met the standard.

The 2016 report suggests results have plateaued after a period of improvement.

For Year 12, which includes results from math and English re-sits taken at the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre, the percentage of students achieving the benchmark was 47 percent in 2014, rising to 48 percent in 2015 and dipping back to 47 percent in 2016.

For Year 11, the data reports indicate that 32 percent reached the standard in 2014, rising to 38 percent the following year and dipping back to 36 percent in 2016.

The results still lag some way behind those of British government funded schools.

Statistics from the U.K. government, where students sit the exams at Year 11, show that 56.1 percent of students gained five good passes, including math and English, in 2016.

Previously unreleased results for the end of primary school external exams, also included in the data reports, show results have plateaued, or fallen in some subjects over the past three years.

Students graduating primary school sit exams which test their reading, writing, English and math skills against expected levels set through the National Curriculum.

According to the data reports, 59 percent of students reached the expected level in English in 2016, down from 68 percent the previous year.

Results were also down in reading and writing but up slightly in math.

The 2016 results also compare unfavorably with the expected results for the students based on Cognitive Ability Tests (CAT), which evaluate their general intelligence and potential.

The 2016 data report notes, “The general trend for the period under consideration is that our students are underachieving in English and mathematics relative to their CAT estimates. The challenge therefore, is to ensure that all students leaving primary education achieve expected standards in these core subjects.”

Jon Clark, principal of John Gray High School, said 2016 had been a particularly difficult year across the Caribbean in math, which had dragged the overall school marks down generally. He said believed “great inroads” were being made in that subject, the fruits of which would be seen in future years.

He added that the English results for John Gray students and across the system had been high for a number of years and further progress would only come with more intensive work with students who arrive at high school with severe reading and learning disabilities.

He said some of that work is going on in high schools and lower down the school.

Mr. Clark also cautioned against comparing figures with the U.K. system where a much smaller percentage of students go to private school. He said it was not uncommon for John Gray to lose 10 of its top performing students at Year 9 to go, on scholarships, to Cayman’s private schools.

“We would never stand in their way if they and their parents make that choice, but it is worth noting that those sort of things do impact national results.”

In a press release in response to questions about the data reports, the Ministry of Education acknowledged a slight downturn in exam performance in 2016, but said this came against the backdrop of significant improvement.

“Overall system performance continues to show a positive trend over time with notable increases in core subject areas,” the ministry stated.

The release highlights science and English as areas of significant improvement.

Ministry officials say an analysis of exam data, including feedback from exam boards, helps inform its annual “plan of action” as well as school specific plans.

Current areas of focus include early intervention to deal with gaps in student learning, according to the release.


  1. “The reports also show girls outperforming boys at every age group in all subjects.”
    This will have far-reaching social and economic consequences and is calling for a national effort to put boys on an equal footing with girls.
    It seems that only Young Musician of the Year award finalists are equally represented by boys and girls. Music does change a human brain, helps to develop “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, which can translate into improved academic results for kids.
    Albert Einstein frequently played classical music as a brainstorming technique. He stated in no uncertain terms that the Theory of Relativity was a “musical thought” that came to him intuitively. Einstein recognized an unexplainable connection between music and his science.
    Something to think about for the Ministry of Education while looking for a new model of education the Cayman Islands desperately needs. But they seem to be turning a blind eye on this need.
    The National Youth Policy for the Cayman Islands (2000) has not been launched yet, and 17 years later still calls for “more collaboration between agencies and ministries”.
    And if anyone actually managed to read the entire policy, I am sure his head was spinning from too much of pompous verbosity. 111 pages, 84 of which are mostly statistics, objectives, key strategy areas and general goals, such as “To help children and young people become aware of their unique identity and to learn to appreciate their God-given worth”.

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