Student test scores show more work needs to be done

Preliminary test results show Year 11 Cayman students improving over last year while Year 6 scores declined.

The scores were unveiled by Tammy Hopkins, acting director of the Department of Education Services, during a meeting of government school teachers on 19 Aug.

Typically, the Ministry of Education has announced preliminary GCSE scores at the teacher gathering, but Hopkins said those scores were not yet available. Instead, she presented results based on the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate.

Those numbers showed a marked improvement in English scores. The percentage of students scoring a grade of C or better jumped from 65 in 2018 to 77 this year. The five-year high marks a rise of 17 percentage points from 2015, when the score was 60%.

The English figures were the highlight of the report.

Maths scores bumped up just a single percentage point from last year’s five-year low of 40%.

In 2018, science scores dipped to 50%, a 10‑point drop from 2016’s high of 60%. This year, they recovered some of that lost ground, rising to 58%.

Both the maths and English scores were substantially lower than those announced recently by the Ministry of Education in Jamaica. Students there scored 54.6% in maths and 82.8% in English, according to news reports.

Wingrove Hunte, senior manager of data and testing for the Department of Education Services, said he is encouraged by the scores in English.

“English is on an upward trajectory,” Hunte said, looking at the five-year trend. “It’s generally very positive.”

In maths, he said, “We’re kind of floundering. There’s not as much growth as we would like to see.”

Hunte said variations from year to year do not necessarily reflect on the quality of teaching. It can result from the differences in performance between cohorts of students, he said. One year’s group of students may simply have more academic acumen than the next, or vice versa.

Sometimes that performance can be seen over time. For instance, in 2015, exams taken at the end of Year 6 showed 70% of students hitting the Level 4 target in English. The following four years’ of scores have been lower. That same cohort took their Year 11 exams in June and produced the highest English scores for the same five-year period.

Hunte pointed out that the students had to continue to develop their skills during the five-year interim.

“That does say something about the staff and the quality of teaching,” he said.

Hunte said it was hard to be enthusiastic about the Year 6 exam results, especially the English scores.

“They’re kind of flat,” he said, looking at the five-year trends. “Progress in terms of driving performance might be a little bit slow.”

Maths scores climbed from 45% in 2015 to 62% in 2018, before dropping back to 58% this year.

“We are improving, so that is positive,” Hunte said. “We probably need to do a little more remedial work to drive that up.”

Under-performance at Year 6 has been an ongoing source of concern for educators. High School principals complain that many students coming into Year 7 are not prepared academically and that too much time has to be spent trying to bring them up to speed.

“The whole idea of primary education is to get the building blocks pretty strong,” Hunte said. “It’s easier to mold the kids when they’re young. The sense of failure is much stronger when they get into secondary [school]. It’s a different kind of thinking at the secondary level.”

Hunte said the ministry has received the 2019 GCSE scores and an analysis is currently under way. He expects that work to be completed by next week.

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