A report by Cayman’s Office of Education Standards says that while government elementary schools have made improvements in many areas in the past three years, it has not made an impact on overall student performance.
The report follows a year-long series of inspections and assessments of the Cayman Islands government elementary schools. The surveys were a follow-up to school inspections that were done during the 2014-2015 school year. In those inspections, the schools were largely deemed to be doing poorly.
In this round, most schools were found to be performing satisfactorily, and officials found numerous improvements in teaching and leadership quality. The report also says that those factors have not translated into better scores when it comes to student testing.
However, the most recent Year 6 external exams, which were not available when the report was compiled, do show some improvement.
“The data is provisional, but it’s gone up about 10 percentage points in math,” said Frank Eade, numeracy specialist for the Ministry of Education.
Mr. Eade said he had not yet seen the results for the English portion of the exams.
“Some of the schools are improving significantly,” he said, adding that the push now will be to see consistent improvement across all elementary schools.
Even with those improvements, students are still performing below international standards, said Peter Carpenter, the director of the Office of Educational Standards, who oversaw the annual report. He said schools may need to raise their expectations in order to see significant improvements in student outcomes.
Schools were rated on their progress in meeting recommendations from the 2014-2015 inspections. Two schools, Red Bay and West End primary schools, were found to have made good progress in the past three years. George Town and Sir John A. Cumber primary schools were assessed as making weak progress. All other schools were said to have made satisfactory progress.
Half of the teaching that assessors observed was rated as satisfactory. They found 15 percent of instruction was weak, while 35 percent was good or excellent. Leadership was improved at most schools, with significant restructuring of the hierarchy to include mentors and coordinators for each subject area. Additional resources were also devoted to teacher training. The report also noted that there are adequate resources in terms of staff and classroom tools.
“We have to be more demanding of what we expect of our students,” Mr. Carpenter said.
Assessment tests are given throughout a child’s school career, with a running range of levels that go from 1 to 7. Year 6 instruction is targeted for students to achieve a minimum Level 4C score. The standard in the United Kingdom, was changed in 2013, to a higher mark of 4A.
“We have to make sure the standards we expect are aligned to what is the expected level around the world,” Mr. Carpenter said.
Teaching, he said, should be the foremost consideration.
“The key driver is the quality of teaching,” he said, adding that while it needs to be good, “It’s still broadly satisfactory.”
A major hole in the curriculum is incorporating computer work into students’ lives, the report says.
“There were too few opportunities for students to use [information and communications technology] across the curriculum,” the report says. “Students do not use ICT frequently enough to research or support their independent learning tasks. There is limited evidence of a computing curriculum in place to match international best practice.”
Mr. Carpenter said while his team observed students in computer labs, “that wouldn’t be translated to the home room. I saw laptops in place. They were available, just not used. Ordinarily, you’d be seeing students using that.”
The Ministry of Education revamped the curriculum in English and mathematics in recent years and has plans to revise the curriculum for science and social studies this year. The report, however, recommends against a piecemeal approach.
“The curriculum requires a holistic review,” Mr. Carpenter said. “You’ve got to revise the whole thing. I’ve shared this with the department and they’ve been responsive.”
He believes the curriculum needs to set higher standards.
“What the ministry is doing well,” he said, “is developing remedial programs for students who are struggling.” The same emphasis needs to be given to advanced students.
“There aren’t enough differentiated tasks to help the students who could be achieving at these higher levels,” he said, referring back to the Year 6 exams. “We have not got as many Level 5s.”
The full report is available online at: www.esau.gov.ky/portal/pls/portal/docs/1/12682483.PDF.