Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Find GSAT Replacement

 In recent times the call for the abolition of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) has gotten louder. From the halls of academia to the verandas of the average Jamaican there has been and continue to be a growing body of public opinion calling for the Ministry of Education to find a replacement measuring tool to place our primary school students into high schools. The Grade Six Achievement Test is a placement examination, that is, regardless of the score of the candidate that individual will be placed at a high school. The areas of concern I have regarding the GSAT examination are twofold. Firstly, the GSAT examination is elist at best and secondly, the exam is not a true reflection of the candidate’s scholastic ability. The elitist nature of the GSAT exam is reinforced by the Ministry of Education in two ways. The top performers of the exams are sent to a limited number of high schools and candidates with the lowest scores are also sent to limited number low performing high schools. Therefore from day one the selection process is flawed and plays into the socio-economic divide that is so evident and pervasive throughout the society. By following such a policy we have schools in where the same kinds of students are the majority, this can be good, however, most times it is bad. To locate the negative results of this policy one only has to look at the 'struggling' schools as highlighted by the recent report of the Inspectorate Unit of the Ministry of Education. Most of those students at those schools share a dysfunctional, disruptive, maladaptive code of behaviour, not to mention many have learning challenges. Education should at best be that catalyst to bridge a society not serve to widen the gap between the 'haves' and 'have- nots; . With regards to the GSAT not being a true measurement of a students, ability, I use the example of one subject or component of the exam, that of Communication Task. This exam is divided into two parts, one is the essay section marked out of 6, and the other is a short answer section which requires students to fill out information using a given prompt, this component is also marked out of 6. In quite a number of instances a student who scores six marks out of twelve in Communication Task could be seen as being an average student by virtue of scoring fifty (50%) percent. However, that same candidate can omit to do the essay section or may have scored zero in that section. This scenario happens too often than not and can be interpreted by a given school that the student entering their institution is an average student in that subject. Of course this would be far from the truth as many of those 'average' students could be and should be classified as functional illiterates. How did these students reach to the GSAT level? Did these students sit the Grade Four Literacy Test? Or is it a situation where too many cracks are in the education system and not enough checks and balances? Maybe we should look at zoning our schools and placing students at a school within their zone?  What is clear is that we need to revisit the issue of our GSAT examination with a clear mandate at arriving at a better and more equitable way of placing our students in high schools?