The pass mark for the public high school exit exam recently was lowered from 60 percent to 50 percent after a review found that teachers had never seen a copy of the test and didn’t feel confident preparing students for it, according to Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
Every credible educator — teacher, principal or education officer — knows or should know that there is a general principle that teachers should not test what they have not taught, and learning is not complete until you have provided opportunities for practice,” Dr. Wheatley said in a Tuesday statement that followed social media criticism of the drop in standards. “Final assessment reveals not just what students have learned but how well they have been taught. So assessment cannot be separated from the process that leads to assessment.”
This Exit Proficiency Examination, he said, was introduced in 2016, replacing the School Leaving Examination, which had accounted for 15 percent of the requirements to wards graduation.
“If students did well in their coursework throughout the year, but did not do well on the School Leaving Exam, they could still graduate,” ex- plained Dr. Wheatley, who taught at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College before he was elected to office in February. “Partly in reaction to this reality, the ministry introduced an exam that students had to pass in order to graduate.”
Honour students failed
The new system, he explained, means that students who thrived throughout secondary school might not be able to graduate if they do not “test well.”
“Very early in my tenure as education minister, I discovered there were a number of students who were honour students who failed the EPE,” he said. “This reality led to two important questions: How was it possible that students would perform so well during the course of the school year but fail this exam; and what was this exam measuring?”
Upon further investigation, he said, he learned that the teachers responsible for preparing the students for the EPE had “never seen an EPE exam;” weren’t privy to past results; and “felt handicapped” in preparing students for the test.
He also learned other information, he said:
• after failing the EPE, students could not review the questions they got wrong in order to determine their weak areas;
• it was unclear how the test results were used to improve teaching and learning;
• teachers believed that the shift system implemented after Hurricane Irma impacted students’ preparation for the EPE, as did the noisy learning environment in their temporary facilities; and
• the students were not accustomed to the exam format and instructions.
“As a result of my investigations, I concluded that there were significant gaps between the expectations of the ministry and the process of teaching and learning in the schools, and that put the students at a disadvantage,” Dr. Wheatley said, adding, “I know I am being accused of watering down standards, but these standards must be fair and they must be consistent. The concepts that students are instructed on must be the same concepts they are tested on.”
Moving forward, he said, his ministry plans to review education policies and legislation with an eye toward bringing them all in line with international best-practice standards.