Reaction to Release of Preliminary Findings of the Independent Review Team into the Conduct of CXC Exams 2020

On Sunday, October 18, Sir Hilary Beckles, in his capacity as Chairman of the Caribbean Examinations Council, and Dr. Wayne Wesley, Registrar of CXC, held a virtual press conference to release the preliminary findings of the Independent Review Team, empaneled to investigate the examination process, allocated examination results and general performance expectations, inter alia.

For the purpose of context, this Review Team was appointed by the CXC Chair amidst region-wide protestations from students, parents and teachers, resulting from the release of CXC results on September 22, and the fact that those results were at significant variance with historical trends, teacher predictions and reasonable student and parent expectation. This resulted in thousands of students either with no grades, or grades which were wholly unacceptable and not reflective of reality, which has put on pause the higher education aspirations of these students.
At the press conference, there was no admission of fault nor any acceptance of responsibility by the Council for the inconvenience, anxiety, agony and heartache caused by the clearly defective results.

Instead, CXC blamed four factors for this crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic, internet connectivity in the territories of the region, implied teacher corruption and unmerited high student expectations. This was a shameless attempt to pass the buck of responsibility and one which does not factor in the fact that this year’s problem is clearly a macro problem and therefore those micro factors would not create the quagmire in which we now find ourselves.

Most disturbingly, the Council, since September 22, has and continues to place unfounded blame at the feet of teachers, with unsubstantiated, implied allegations of teacher corruption and/or misconduct, as far as the award of marks is concerned. This stance is deeply regrettable for an examination body, which relies upon teachers to teach their syllabus content, and for a Council which reports to Ministries of Education, who employ many of these teachers, and certainly supervise all.

The Council must, unequivocally, state its confidence in the teaching profession in the region, if there is to be a harmonious relationship between the two, going forward. On another point of clarification, CXC intimated that only a ‘small minority’ of students have experienced challenges. This is particularly regrettable as it simply does not reflect the reality that, by CXC’s admission, there were nearly 14,000 instances of students receiving ‘ungraded’ or ‘absent’ results, or of the major public outcry in the four weeks since the release of results.

The misrepresentation of the problem as a minor one is unfortunate, and will only serve to continue to undermine the confidence of persons in CXC, and inhibit the ‘healing process’ to which Sir Hilary referred in his contribution to the press conference.

On the positive side, despite the misrepresentations highlighted above, the IRT did recommend a number of measures in the immediate term, which correspond to many of the demands made by parent and student advocacy groups. Importantly:

• The review process will now include an actual remark of exam scripts, and not the ineffective administrative review, as previously proposed;
• The vexatious issue of the cost of reviews will be partially addressed by the Council, by a 50% reduction of that fee;
• Candidates who request reviews will not receive a ‘downgrade’ of the result, which was another contentious issue. Instead, the grade will remain the same, or adjusted upwards, if the remark of the candidate’s scripts support that;
• Reviews will be returned expeditiously, with the timeframe of turnover being hopefully one week, with the process for requesting a review, being transitioned online, making that process faster and simpler;
• The review deadline was also extended.

Students across the region commend this mature approach taken and would hope that the remark of the papers produce more equitable grades than previously and that the turnover time is indeed one week.

However, burning questions remain unanswered:

• Will the re-moderation of SBAs be done in accordance with the same rubric as in previous years, and which was used by students and teachers this year? Or will the rubric used be modified as was done in the original moderation, in some instances, and which may have produced the irregular results?
• How did CXC weight the papers in the absence of Paper 2? While much was made at the press conference about “grading on profiles”, this point remains unclear.
• Relatedly, how does CXC respond to concerns that originally allocated profiles did not match with original grades, for example where a candidate received an AAB profile, but received a Grade 3? How does that reconcile with the Registrars assertion that grading was done based on profiles?
• Who will CXC employ as ‘additional capacity’ to remark the examination scripts? And what measures are in place to ensure that this ‘additional capacity’ meet the standard for quality assurance?
• It was stated at the press conference that computation of grades will be done solely on performance in the Multiple Choice and SBA component of the examinations. This is significantly at variance with the Council’s previously stated position that predicted grades would be factored in. Clarification is required on this point.

Based upon the summary of the recommendations of the IRT provided at the press conference, it appears that CXC has recognized the plethora of mistakes made previously, even if there is a reluctance to explicitly take responsibility. Students and parents will look forward to the release of the final report on Tuesday for the full detail of the findings, and CXC must also publish a document detailing precisely how those recommendations will be implemented and addressing the burning questions which remain.

Four weeks in, it is past time, for us to move past the present crisis, to find an equitable resolution for all. While the recommendations of the IRT are in no way perfect, if implemented correctly, they will go a significant way in alleviating the problem.

Khaleel Kothdiwala, Student Advocate

Khaleel Kothdiwala, Student Advocate

The ball is now in the court of CXC to implement these recommendations, and provide clarity on matters, which up to the present, they have eschewed direct comment. It is regrettable that CXC continues to refuse to meet with parent or student advocacy groups, but it can be hoped that after their recognition today of their communication failures, that a more amenable public response posture will be adopted.

After all, CXC is all of us in this complex ecosystem of education in the Caribbean, as Sir Hilary put it, and must therefore chasten itself to be able to held accountable. Only then can the healing process start!

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