A debt of gratitude is owed to the teenagers who led the challenge that forced a much-needed review of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
The value of their efforts is now evident in the final report released yesterday by the review team, headed by Hazel Simmons-McDonald, which was tasked to examine changes in the administration and grading process of this year’s CSEC and CAPE exams and the moderation process applied to School-Based Assessment (SBA).
If there are positives to the Covid-19 pandemic, some of it lies among the team’s sweeping recommendations. While there are many specific examples of recommended improvements, the report’s most significant outcome may well be the onus it places on CXC to be more transparent and accountable to those it serves. This is a fundamental breakthrough and cultural shift in the dynamics of power between the examining body and pupils, so glaringly evident in CXC’s initial haughty response to being challenged by pupils. One might therefore say the grading issue that triggered the review is a case of the right mistakes having been made by CXC, assuming that the recommendations are implemented.
The report’s specific recommendations seek to address several problematic areas picked up in the review. These include communication gaps between CXC and educators which impact on the quality of SBAs, exam leaks, limitations of the grading model and, while it does not specifically say so, the right of pupils to expect a fair and speedy response to urgent questions affecting their future.
Among the immediate actions recommended was that CXC abandon its policy and practice of grade diminution as expressed in its warning to pupils that “a review of your script may result in your overall grade either increasing, decreasing or remaining the same”. To this implied threat the report pointedly stated that CXC is “estopped or prevented from arriving at a lower grade than what CXC itself previously determined and on which students relied”.
Policies like this which fuel the fear that a request for a grade review could tie up one’s grades for lengthy periods to one’s own disadvantage have the effect of discouraging pupils from querying their grades. One wonders how many pupils weighed the risks and decided against their own interest before the injustice of this policy came to light.
Several of the recommendations for medium- to long-term action by CXC speak to ongoing training of teachers on CXC standards, especially regarding SBA exams which have been dogged for years by problems of subjectivity and wide variation in standards. They also respond to the need for pupil education campaigns, more training of examiners, better management at CXC regarding the security of exam questions and the treatment of sample questions, strengthening of the CXC-teacher network across the region, a permanent capability for research and development within CXC, and contingency planning, among other things.
Although its scope was limited to issues stemming from pupils’ complaints about this year’s exams, the Simmons-McDonald report touches critical areas for improvement of CXC while highlighting the need for a more thorough examination of the regional examination body.