EDITORIAL – Positive marks for new school inspections regime

Education officials appear to be delivering on their promise to evaluate thoroughly government schools’ performance and to make their findings public. That’s a welcome change from the past, when critical reports were massaged, edited and even buried from view.

To date, inspectors have evaluated six government primary schools’ progress in implementing recommendations from baseline inspections conducted during the 2014-15 school year, with more to come.

Most of Cayman’s government schools received poor marks in that earlier inspection. Follow-up inspections have revealed satisfactory progress at schools in East End, Red Bay, Prospect, Bodden Town and Savannah. Of the schools inspected so far, only George Town Primary School has been found to have made “weak” progress, overall. (The George Town report did contain a silver lining: praise for brand-new Principal Sharon Campbell-Danvers and Deputy Principal Danielle Duran, who seem to have made a positive first impression on parents and teachers through their proactive approach to tackling the school’s challenges.)

The new inspection process, designed by Peter Carpenter, director of the Office of Education Standards, aims to be collaborative, factual and in greater alignment with accepted accreditation methods. School administrators, teachers, parents and students play a role in the process.

School evaluators have introduced greater transparency by making the full reports available online (at www.pocs.gov.ky; click on “publications” under the heading Freedom of Information, then on the link labeled “Office of Education Standards”).

By building on the results and recommendations made during the last comprehensive school inspections, conducted three years ago, the current strategy provides much-needed (and historically lacking) continuity and accountability.

Schools deemed to have made satisfactory or good progress will again be inspected as part of a full cycle of inspections, beginning this September. Those that don’t hit those marks will undergo additional scrutiny before that time, with the process repeating itself until recommendations are met.

Mr. Carpenter’s goal is to build a clear and consistent understanding of school performance, give a more accurate assessment of how our schools and students measure up to global standards and to give schools and educators actionable goals to achieve it.

To that end, moving forward, public and private schools will be evaluated in six areas: student achievement, student personal and social development, effective teaching, appropriate curriculum, safety and support of students, and school leadership.

As we have written, impartial and “tough but fair” assessments are a necessary, but only preliminary step for school improvement. Evaluations alone cannot improve a school, but they can serve as “You Are Here” markers on a roadmap to success.

When setting standards for Cayman’s schools, Mr. Carpenter and other leaders (including Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Councillor Barbara Conolly and Education Council Chairman Dan Scott) ought to be ambitious, even aspirational. We are confident that our country’s principals, teachers, students and parents will rise to the challenge of high expectations, as long as they are accompanied by the tools, resources and freedom needed to achieve them.

A more rigorous inspection regime won’t “fix” Cayman’s troubled government schools system – we believe that will require a fundamental transformation in our model of public education. Whether our elected leaders have the foresight or political will to carry through such a revolution remains, at best, unclear.

That being said, the new approach to school inspections does appear to be a positive development, perhaps primarily in that it injects a much-needed spirit of honesty and accountability into our all-important education system.

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