Education — exploring alternative assessment strategies

Results for the 2019 BGCSE exams reveal a drop in overall performance. Fewer students sat the exams this year as compared to the previous year and of those who sat the exams fewer received grades ranging between A and C.

Annually, we subject ourselves to the lament of falling standards in our education system bemoaning “school leavers” who do not meet the expected benchmark for grade 12 students.

Of course, students who will not meet the 12th grade benchmark are visible to teachers long before tutoring for BGCSE exams.

Failing students are identified in the earliest years of primary school when their underperformance is confirmed by Grade Level Assessment Tests (GLAT) results that show reading, comprehension and computing levels at below benchmarked standard.

They are again identified when, notwithstanding tests results, they are “socially promoted” from primary to middle and high school unable to read and calculate or reading and calculating below their grade level.

We have previously commented on our having achieved the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education in our country. We expanded that achievement to include universal access to secondary education even while increasing the school-leaving age from 14 to 16.

We also have a laudable record improving access for increased numbers of Bahamians to post-12th grade technical and vocational training and to tertiary level academic study.

Regrettably what we have not achieved is an acceptable education outcome for far too many students who leave our school system.

The danger of successive years of under-performance in the school system has dire consequences for our country and for our economy.

Functionally illiterate adults create our greatest challenge because they are unable to use reading, writing and calculation for their own and our community’s development.

The Bahamas is not alone in disappointing education out-turns nor in the significant numbers of functionally illiterate adults.

A 2018 United Kingdom report found that one in three British five-year old’s struggle with vocabulary. One in five children leave primary school unable to read or write properly. It also found some nine million functionally illiterate adults who cost Britain some 37 billion pounds annually.

Results in the United States, where the education system is also measured and evaluated by tests and assessments, are not dissimilar to those of the UK.

The 2015 US National Assessment of Education Progress for 12th Grade Reading Level Assessment showed that only 46 percent of white students scored at or above proficient levels. Rates for black and Latino were substantially lower at 17 percent and 25 percent respectively.

These numbers all compare poorly to the great education successes being achieved in the Nordic countries like Finland where students routinely rate amongst the highest performers internationally.

Interestingly, Finland’s education system, unlike those in Britain, the US and The Bahamas, relies far less on frequent tests and assessments of memorized facts and figures. One gets the impression that Finnish students are taught to think and discover.

Eight years ago, Atlantic Magazine discussed aspects of Finnish education.

The big takeaways included the fact that all schools in Finland are government-operated or funded, teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using tests they create themselves, the ministry of education only periodically tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups and the highest priority is placed on responsibility — presumably of students, parents and teachers.

The Atlantic report explained that in Finland, all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay and a lot of responsibility.

A master’s degree is required to enter the profession and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

Having followed the same British system with the same miserable outcomes from colonial times might we not begin to try a different system with a proven record of success?

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