Principal of Fatima College Fr Gregory Augustine has said the re-marking of Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) June exams had only affected a small percentage of the student population.
Speaking to Newsday by phone on Wednesday, Augustine said when the overall numbers are examined, only a specific group of students were truly affected, primarily the region’s top performing Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) students.
Students and parents across the region erupted in protest after receiving what they considered unfair CAPE and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) grades in exams which took place in June, demanding their papers be re-marked.
CXC decided earlier this year to modify the exam, considering the global covid19 pandemic, and excluded paper two (the long paper), replacing it with a multiple-choice format.
The resulting protests prompted CXC to hire an independent review team to examine the modifications to determine whether they had caused the unexpected grades.
Augustine explained what he believed to be a misunderstanding about the situation.
“When CXC said the marks overall are better (this year), they are telling the truth…We have to be honest about that,” he said.
Augustine said while many believe the issue affected a large number of students, this is not the case. He said while some CSEC students were affected, it is primarily CAPE students who received the brunt of the blow.
“Even when you speak about CAPE, it is really the top performers. It is not something that is widespread.”
He said, however, the issue is not a matter of numbers.
“Here it is you have your top performers in the region not having gained what they know they are capable of, and there is this tremendous sense of disappointment.
“The issue is this small number (of affected students) is representative of the top performers in the region. Clearly something has gone awry.”
Augustine said those who sat exams last year and earned high marks (ones) and straight As in their profiles are now receiving grades as low as threes.
“This is not a particular school or country. Something is wrong. This is where we would like to push CXC…and take a proper look at the issue.”
He said the situation has made students anxious about exams in 2021 and as far as 2022.
“This is not only going to be now…so there is a certain degree of uneasiness for 2021, and understandably so.”
Augustine said he agreed the exam needed to be modified.
“If one looks universally, all examining bodies made adjustments because of the pandemic. To (CXC's) credit, they came out early and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”
He said the general perception among educators about the change to multiple choice was that it would be too easy.
“I had my reservations about that, but (CXC) would not give away the exam…it would compromise the integrity of the exam, which is what they have been saying all along.
“Still, we are not too sure how they marked, but clearly it was not a giveaway.”
He also said, to the council’s credit, adjustments were made quickly, and students did not have to wait as long as SEA students.
“Adjustments had to be made. It was an extraordinary situation. The concern surrounding the end result is that the region’s top minds were affected. We can’t just pass that off and say, ‘Ok, well hard luck.’ These are young men and women who have bright futures ahead of them. It is unfortunate and unfair.”
Augustine is also a member of the recently formed Caribbean Coalition for 2020 Exam Redress, in which educators, parents and teachers across the region have come together to continue fighting for students’ grades to be changed. He said the focus of the coalition is to address the grades of the region’s top-performing students.
“These are our students. I do not mean in terms of my own school; these are our nationals (and) the future of our country and the region. We as educators of the region feel passionately about our craft. We cannot just leave them high and dry. It is not their fault and we need to do all we can to bring this to a proper conclusion."
He said the coalition held a press conference on December 10 where it demonstrated trends in grades over the past year.
“When you look at the trends you see something is wrong. When teachers give the projected grades, the teacher knows their students. The projected grade is not a guess, it is based on the competence of the students.
"People do not make mistakes in that regard. We are professionals.”
He said he is still hopeful CXC would be more responsive. He said in previous years, the council was more effective in communicating with education stakeholders.
Augustine said in the last five years, before covid19, many teachers had expressed concern about low grades in the CAPE subject communication studies. A meeting was held in September 2019 with all heads of departments of English – communication studies is an English-based course – but since then, CXC had not responded.
“The feeling was CXC was not listening and so (the events of) this year were the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
He said he hopes CXC will examine the fallout and work harder to communicate with education stakeholders.
“People must feel a sense of openness, accountability, and dialogue,” he said. “We felt there was a lessening of that channel of communication, so we are hoping this would invoke the change.”