Public input sought on public school evaluations

A new framework for inspecting Cayman Islands schools has been issued to principals across the island. The Office of Education Standards is looking for feedback on the guidelines from school administrators and, eventually, members of the public before finalizing them.

“I’m hoping and trusting the community will share with us their aspirational goals,” said Peter Carpenter, director of the standards office and the primary author of the framework.

Mr. Carpenter came to the territory in October and has been assessing how much the public schools have progressed since a round of inspection reports in 2014-2015 found most of them to be substandard. He and his team have also been laying out a framework for future inspections, with an eye to creating a more collaborative process, in which school officials will perform self-evaluations.

The framework, which will apply to private as well as public schools, breaks the goals of the education system into six areas:

  • Student achievement
  • Student personal and social development
  • Effective teaching
  • Appropriate curriculum
  • Safety and support of students, and
  • School leadership.

Each area is broken down into a series of evaluative elements. Each is then laid out in various degrees of successful completion on a grid that ranges from excellent to weak. For instance, under student achievement, if “most students consistently attain levels that are above international standards” on both internal and external assessment tests, the school would rate excellent in that area. If “less than three-quarters of the students attain levels that are at least in line with curriculum standards,” the school would be rated weak for that category.

The idea, Mr. Carpenter said, is to give educators, parents and community members a clear picture of what excellence looks like.

“Hopefully, this is a bit of a tool for them to aspire to greater performance for their schools,” he said. “We’re talking about reaching international standards.”

Those standards are culled from multiple sources.

“I gathered approaches from around the world,” said Mr. Carpenter, who has drawn on his experience as an educator and administrator in the United Kingdom and the Middle East. “I’ve used approaches from Europe and some accreditation [standards] in America.”

Now, he is looking for what people in Cayman think in order to make the educational goals and mechanisms for reaching them appropriate to the system here.

“I worked with colleagues in the Ministry of Education to get some feedback,” he said. “I wanted to make sure it was contextualized.”

The ministry also made its position clear in certain areas. For instance, Mr. Carpenter said, there are concerns about providing more opportunities for the community to invest itself in the educational process. One of those could be the establishment of local school councils or school boards, a common element in many educations systems in developed nations. Private schools on the island have such bodies, but not the public schools.

“They were a bit nervous about me building that in,” Mr. Carpenter said of the ministry officials. “If we want parents to be actively involved, you’ve got to give them some power.”

That will not be happening anytime soon. Even though it is included in the framework, the ministry’s position is clear.

“The element pertaining to governance is applicable only in the context of private schools in The Cayman Islands,” the document reads. “Public schools are governed by the Ministry of Education and there will be no evaluation made by inspectors in relation to this element in 2018/19.”

Mr. Carpenter said in the coming days, he is also preparing to release the first two of a series of reports on how primary schools have progressed since the 2014-2015 inspections. Reports on Savannah and Bodden Town schools will be published soon, with Prospect and George Town schools to follow. He plans to have reports completed on all primary schools by the end of summer.

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