The New Today

Commentary

CXC 2020 Examination debacle

I wish to register my extreme disappointment and consternation with the inadequate and incomprehensible response provided firstly by the Registrar of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), Dr. Wesley Wayne, in the wake of the furore surrounding the release of the 2020 CAPE and CSEC results.

The Registrar’s response, in which he failed to acknowledge any culpability by the CXC for the confusion, reflects an arrogance by the CXC administration that is only matched by their lack of empathy for the distress their actions have caused students, parents and teachers across the region.

I am equally disappointed by the responses provided to date by other key stakeholders such as Sir Hilary Beckles as Chair of the CXC Council and the Ministry of Education as their response to the uproar across the region has been tepid at best.

These bodies which have some oversight power regarding the CXC have failed to hold the CXC administration accountable and have instead left the students and parents at the mercy of what is a dysfunctional system.

From all reports, it is clear that the CXC has experienced an organisational failure as the release of the 2020 CSEC and CAPE results has been attended by numerous anomalies in respect to students’ attendance and performance.

CXC’s reaction to date has been insensitive, arrogant, defensive and dismissive of the complaints emanating from across the region. The Registrar has gone so far as to suggest that students are doctoring their grades. He has also insisted that the complaining students should fork out US$30 per subject to seek a review. This is clearly not an acceptable response to the issue.

The region-wide nature of the complaints suggests that there has been some sort of system failure with respect to CXC’s methodology and its checks and balances. Therefore the onus cannot be on the individual student, an individual school or individual country to resolve this issue.

CXC or an independent auditor needs to undertake a complete re-evaluation of the CSEC and CAPE results for all students. This systemic failure not only affected students who feel they are deserving of better grades but equally students who would have received higher grades than their usual performance justified.

So, it is completely ludicrous to require students to submit and pay for a review of grades as these persons will be unduly burdened by having to bear the cost of CXC’s mismanagement of the 2020 examination exercise.

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Clearly the students and schools doing much better than expected will not be complaining and will not have to bear the cost related to requesting a review of their grades.

Further, CXC’s claim that the 2020 results are much better than in previous years should be treated with derision and in any event is irrelevant to the concerns raised. Nevertheless, it should be noted that one is not comparing like with like.

The 2020 exams comprised a multiple-choice paper, in which it is claimed that as much as 90% of the questions were recycled for some subjects, and school-based assessments (SBAs).

In previous years, the examinations also consisted of a paper with essay-type questions which really tested the student’s knowledge, writing skills and their ability to use information critically. This year results, therefore, cannot be compared with previous years’ results.

In any event, given the extensive repeat of multiple-choice questions, all else being equal, one would expect the “good” students as well as the conscientious weaker students to do well. You certainly would not expect the good students to be floored by this year’s exams. CXC needs to explain the anomalies.

Given the regional nature of the concerns, the various Ministers of Education across the region should be demanding (not urging) that CXC review the entire 2020 examination exercise. The methodology for grading and who was responsible for grading should also be made public. Transparency and fairness are demanded.

Students should not be made to pay for the failures of CXC and those charged with the oversight and accountability for the institution. CXC, like many of our other regional institutions, seems to be afflicted by poor governance and poor oversight.

Where are the checks and balances?

CXC’s internal control should have flagged that something was amiss and this would have avoided the region-wide crisis and distress occasioned by the release of the 2020 CSEC and CAPE results. Who is guarding the guards?

Going forward, in order to redeem the credibility of the CXC and the integrity of its examination process, there needs to be a critical review of its approach to examining and certifying and its governance arrangements.

The key stakeholders in the region’s education need to urgently address the 2021 examination process to ensure there is not a repeat of the 2020 debacle since COVID 19 will still likely be with us.

Dr. Juliet Melville is a Barbadian-born regional consultant

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