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Commentary

The ongoing CXC debacle

It has been more than three weeks since the 2020 CSEC and CAPE results were released by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC). The release of these results created an uproar across the region because of the numerous anomalies including the award of poor grades to exceptional students and declaring absent students who were in attendance.

The release of these results has traumatised students and parents throughout the region and has raised serious concerns about the integrity of the CXC’s 2020 assessment process.

Consequently students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders have demanded that the CXC conduct a comprehensive audit of the 2020 assessment process in order to determine the cause of the disparity in the 2020 results vis a vis the previous years’ results and to take the necessary action to rectify errors made in the 2020 results.

Following the numerous complaints, the CXC Chair established an Independent Review Team to conduct a comprehensive audit of the 2020 results. The appointment of this team has gone some way to reassuring some students, parents, and other stakeholders that the CXC will be held accountable and that the students will receive the results commensurate with their actual performance.

While some of the initial furore following the release of the results has dissipated, this should not be taken as a sign that students and parents have lost interest in this matter or are satisfied with how this matter has been handled by the responsible authorities in the region.

The parents of children adversely affected are extremely angry and utterly frustrated at not only the non-responsiveness of CXC to the concerns echoing across the region but also by the lack of support from their stakeholders at the national level, namely the Ministries of Education, the schools and parent teacher associations.

Students and parents have been made to bear the full responsibility of demanding accountability through protest action and activism via the press and social media in order to seek redress in a situation that warrants a coordinated response by stakeholders at the national and regional level.

Many questions also remain unanswered. The refusal of CXC to address the concerns raised by parents, students, teachers, and many others in a timely, straightforward, and direct manner is untenable and shows the disregard for its constituents – the students, parents, and the educational establishments.

Some of the queries raised address the lack of transparency in the 2020 evaluation process and clearly do not require any special committee to be convened to consider them. Questions have been posed about the method of assessment, specifically about the relative weights assigned to the two components of the examinations, whether 100 per cent of the school-based assessments were marked and by whom.

Questions were also raised as to whether the high percentage of repeat questions in the multiple-choice papers created special difficulty in differentiating between students and how was this addressed. All reasonable and valid questions by people seeking to understand the highly unusual results and which required simple factual answers by the Chief Executive Officer/Registrar and his staff. Three weeks hence, there has been no response to the questions posed.

The establishment of an Independent Review Team (IRT) by the Chair of the CXC Council clearly does not preclude the Registrar from offering such clarification/information to the public. Instead of taking the opportunity to be transparent and open and explain its assessment process, CXC has remained stoically silent and indifferent in the face of protest and criticism from across the region.

The notable failure of CXC to seize the opportunity to shed light on its 2020 assessment process and its insistence that students must follow the standard procedure and submit individual request for reviews by October 23, 2020 suggest that the CXC might not be treating in good faith with the affected students and their parents.

Given that the IRT has not yet completed its evaluation of the 2020 examination process and therefore has not cleared the CXC of responsibility, it is unconscionable that the CXC is still demanding that students submit a formal request for a review and pay US$30 per subject.

In light of the unprecedented nature of the outcry over the 2020 results across the region and the “malfunction” in the assessment process, the standard review which requires parents to fork out US$30.00 per subject is unjust, punitive and should not apply. It is evident that something clearly went awry, and no amount of denial can convince keen observers otherwise. In the interest of fairness and preserving the integrity of CXC brand, a comprehensive reassessment of the 2020 examination design and grades awarded is required.

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In light of the stonewalling by the CXC on simple questions, the establishment of the IRT has not allayed the concerns of parents and students, nor convinced them of the transparency and integrity of the assessment process. Further the insistence by the CXC to apply the normal review process while the independent review has not been completed is of great concern and seems to prejudge the outcome of this review.

Additionally, the IRT is expected to report by October 17, 2020 after the deadline for some students who have gained conditional entry into universities pending their CAPE results. At the very least, the CXC should seek to expedite the re-evaluation so as not to disadvantage these students.

While persons with recognised expertise in their respective fields are on the team, one notes the absence of parents, teachers, and students’ representatives. Even while this team is yet to “review and report”, pronouncements are being made that suggest that CXC has done nothing wrong. This has left parents rightly wondering whether the appointment of the IRT was simply to appease those protesting the results whilst it is business as usual.

The details of CXC’s assessment process has been opaque and a “black box” even for those preparing children to sit the CXC administered examinations, especially when it comes to disputes over grades. It is not in CXC’s interest, for stakeholders to perceive that it is unaccountable and unresponsive. To give this perception is inadvisable and fails to recognise that the integrity and credibility of CXC are at stake.

Users, such as higher education establishments and employers, of CXC awarded grades are watching closely and coming to their own conclusion. Covid-19 has forced schools, universities, and other educational establishments to go online thus becoming truly global and accessible to all. The CXC brand is only as strong as it remains credible and widely accepted but it offers no competitive advantage in a world where education can be digitally delivered to all corners of the globe.

Hopefully the IRT will report on the validity and reliability of CXC’s examinations in measuring students’ performance and the integrity of its quality assurance and certification process. This debacle may be a true test of the viability and sustainability of the CXC brand and its handling of this would demonstrate the willingness to hold our regional institutions to high standards of transparency and accountability.

Mr. David Comissiong, Barbados’ ambassador to CARICOM, reminded us of the raison d’etre for the establishment of CXC, and no one can deny that we owe a debt of gratitude to CXC for making education more relevant to the needs and aspirations of the people of the region with limited resources at its disposal while being asked to do more and more.

In return, the region’s citizens have embraced and loyally supported CXC over the years and have placed the educational future of their children in CXC’s hands, but CXC has not always treated the citizens of the region as valuable partners in this regional exercise as this latest debacle demonstrates.

In like manner, the persons charged with the oversight of this key regional institution have erred in not dealing with this situation in a transparent manner and in not showing greater empathy for the citizens of the region that have been adversely impacted by this situation and who continue to put their trust in regional institutions.

To whom much is given, much is expected! The people of the region expect nothing less than openness, transparency, and accountability from CXC. Justice for our children.

Dr. Juliet Melville is a Barbadian-born regional consultant

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