Test scores of Cayman students below U.K. average

Tests designed to measure student potential show Cayman government school students scoring 2 percent to 8 percent below the mean established by students in the United Kingdom. According to the company that produces the test, the CAT4 – Cognitive Abilities Test Fourth Edition – is designed to measure “developed abilities” and is used as a predictor of a student’s future performance.

In other words, the test results – from exams given over several weeks in October and November to Years 4, 6 and 9 students – indicate that students in the Cayman public schools can be expected to perform below average overall.

Department of Education Director Lyneth Monteith said it is her job, and that of other educators on the island, to get students to perform beyond those expectations.

Wingrove Hunte, who oversees testing for the department, said it is important to look at the scores in context. The public schools in Cayman, he said, have a large number of students with special education needs – those identified as such make up as much as 25 percent of the student population – and they draw from a demographic that is often faced with socioeconomic challenges. Both of those factors are known to impact educational performance.

“Because of the high [special education needs], you will get a slight skewing,” Mr. Hunte said.

The department does not collect socioeconomic data on student families, he said, but it is widely accepted that the public school students are less well off, in general, than those attending Cayman’s private schools.

“Those people that can send their kids to private education tend to, if they can afford it,” Mr. Hunte said.

Overall, the Year 4 students showed more potential than those in the upper grades. The overall mean score was 96.9. Year 6 and year 9 students scored 93.9 and 94.1, respectively. A score of 100 meets the mean established by students in the U.K. system.

All three groups of students scored lowest on the verbal and math portions of the test, and highest on the portions measuring non-verbal and spatial abilities.

Ten percent of Year 9 students scored “very low” on the verbal portion of the test.

Ms. Monteith said the tests provide an important tool for educators, helping to determine students’ strengths and where more resources need to be made available.

“We know our children come to school with many barriers,” she said, adding that she believes the schools are providing appropriate support. “We employ sufficient specialized teachers in English and math, with concentrated programs. Last year, we added 50 new posts and they were all for [special education needs].”

Since the tests were implemented in 2010, she said, specific programs have been generated in response to trying to move the scores closer to average.

“We’ve added math and reading recovery, specifically for intervention geared at closing that gap,” she said.

Ms. Monteith said such analysis reaches down to the classroom level. She said teachers can look at the test scores to see what kinds of learning styles are dominant among their students and can tailor their lesson plans accordingly.

She believes progress is being made and the necessary pieces are in place to help students improve and succeed.

“By the time our students reach Year 12, they’re on par with their U.K. counterparts,” she said.

Results from exit exams in 2017 show that 51 percent of Cayman Year 12 students hit the standard of passing five or more subjects at level 2 or higher, when English and math were included in those subjects. The 2017 average for U.K. students was unavailable at press time, but Cayman students have consistently scored lower than their U.K. peers over the years.

The 2017 figure is a significant increase from 2016, when 47 percent of Year 12 students hit the five-plus subjects at level 2 or more. In the U.K., the corresponding figure in 2016 was 56 percent, a marked difference, particularly when one considers that U.K. students take their exams after Year 11. The percent of Year 11 Cayman students passing five or more level 2 subjects in 2016 was just 36 percent.

Given the “barriers” Ms. Monteith says Cayman students face, closing those gaps remains a challenge. The CAT4 scores, she emphasizes, are meant to be a predictor, not the definitive assessment of a student’s abilities.

“The story really begins here,” she said.