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An independent Committee is to be established to address concerns brought forward by parents regarding the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), Minister of Education, Andrew Holness has announced.
Speaking in the House of Representatives, yesterday (June 26), he emphasized that the committee would not review the marking of papers, but would focus solely on ranking, placement and awards of scholarships.
“Based on the renewed interest, we need to have a process of arbitration, a process of review, so that if a parent has a complaint, it shouldn’t be left up to the Minister to decide. We really should have an independent process where if the parents have a genuine grouse, they can apply to that committee. The committee would review (their case) and make a judgment. I think that will improve the integrity and transparency of the system,” Mr. Holness explained.
The committee will include a representative from the University of the West Indies (UWI), the organization that processes the score; the Ministry of Education, the Public Defender, and the President of the National Parent Teachers Association (PTA).
“It cannot start operating for this year, because the placement process is already gone, but certainly for next year, this committee will be in place to handle all issues,” he assured. In addition, a technical review of the GSAT will be carried out, focusing on the communications task test. “Of all the tests, the scores on communications task have improved the most, so it is now time to re-visit the structure of the test to probably raise the standard as well as change the scale,” he noted, adding that the Ministry would also be seeking to adjust the scale for the science test as well.
The Minister said a simple document explaining the scoring and placement process would be circulated to schools, parents and other interested parties.
“The GSAT is the most important examination in Jamaica today, and it has been shrouded in secrecy, which promotes misunderstanding, mistrust and suspicion. A national placement examination must have the confidence of the people. The Ministry is therefore committed to making the GSAT process as transparent as possible,” he told the House.
To this end, the Ministry will be changing the reporting method to parents and schools, for the next sitting of the GSAT. The Ministry will report not only the percentage scores, but also the raw scores, the standard score, the national average per subject and the ranking per child, along with a brief interpretation of each of these statistics.
“I would like to assure the nation that the GSAT system is intact, and that all awards were done fairly. No system is infallible, and so we are going to open a process, so that if you feel that you were dealt with unfairly, there is a process of appeal, and we will be constantly reviewing the system to ensure that it is improving,” he said.
Opposition Spokesperson on Education, Maxine Henry Wilson suggested that in the review, the Ministry should look at making the final test an accumulative score.
“I think that the stakes become higher as the decision is made on the basis of one of two days. I think that as a curriculum based exam, the students benefit more if at each stage they are tested and that goes toward their final grade, because right now it is a little bit too intense and children who can perform well don’t do so well in two days. They may be able to do better over a period of time,” she explained, noting that when the GSAT was being planned, the understanding was that the test would be cumulative, allowing students to benefit from some of their grades five and six scores.