EDITORIAL — Testing our commitment to quality education

Recently released testing results from the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre are troubling enough for us to sound an alarm that should alert – if not disturb – our entire country.

According to figures released to the Cayman Compass in response to a Freedom of Information Request, of the 189 CIFEC students who retook their math exams in 2016, only 13 – 7 percent – achieved a “level 2 pass” (the equivalent of a “C” or 2.0 in the American grading system).

Nearly half that year’s government school cohort (according to the most recent available data) had to “re-sit” the mathematics exam after failing to achieve the passing grade as Year 11 students – a number in alignment with recent years. What is unusual is how few appeared to benefit from the extra study and instruction when compared to previous groups. In 2014, 29 percent of CIFEC mathematics re-sits achieved a “level 2 pass.” In 2015, the number was 39 percent. Those numbers were far too low, but what happened in 2016?

Some may argue it is a victory any time a re-sit yields a satisfactory score, or that if roughly half of Cayman’s government school students achieve a “level 2 pass” – eventually – that is “good enough.”

It is not good enough. Cayman’s government schools must aim much higher – and perform far better.

Most of Cayman’s students should be properly prepared to demonstrate proficiency when they take their exams in the first instance. If their skills are found wanting, more than a handful should reap demonstrable benefits from additional learning and instruction. That is, after all, the good intent of CIFEC: to give students another chance to “get up to speed” in core subjects, thereby offering them broader opportunities – the pursuit of higher education, training for high-paying jobs and fulfilling careers.

Department of Education Services Director Lyneth Monteith told the Compass that education officials will review the test results to identify areas for improvement. “It is our aim for students to achieve their potential and if this does not occur, to investigate why and find solutions for resolving the issues,” she told a reporter.

A highly effective school system that holds students to high standards and yields excellent results is a necessity, not a luxury. Literacy, numeracy and critical thinking are fundamental life skills regardless of future profession, but they take on an even greater importance in a country such as ours, where employment opportunities and workforce readiness are in structural misalignment.

Not every child will (or will want to) grow up to work as an accountant or an attorney, but poor academic preparation robs them of the power to make that kind of choice. The marketplace will make it for them. Perhaps even more important, marginal academic achievement limits the pathways to a quality life.

The fact is, we have one opportunity to educate a young person – who cannot put “growing up” on hold while adults figure out their role. It is our duty to make sure that all capable students will leave high school with a firm understanding of core subjects, particularly mathematics and language skills.

Even if these most recent test results are an aberration (and we don’t understand how such an aberration could come about), they signify an opportunity missed.

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