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CSEC dilemma - Penwood students in limbo over 'ungraded' SBAs

Published:Wednesday | August 24, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
In this 2014 file photo, a group of Penwood High School students take part a staging of The Gleaner's Youthlink magazine's Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Seminar at Mico University College in Kingston.

The educational progress of approximately 40 students of the Penwood High School in St Andrew has been forced to a halt after a bungling by school administrators resulted in them being 'ungraded' in six subjects sat in this year's Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams.

The school failed to submit the samples of School-based Assessments (SBAs), which the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) uses, along with the written exams in May-June, to determine the overall grade of a student in a subject.

Several of the students who had hopes of pursuing sixth-form studies or who were depending on the subject results to meet requirements to take their place in tertiary-level institutions will have to delay their plans for at least another 12 months.

The CXC released the results of CSEC exams on August 16.

According to Donna McLaren, principal of the Olympic Gardens-based school, the CXC called her office on August 8, breaking the news to her that the Barbados-based institution had not received any samples by the July 31 deadline.

"This year, CXC gave the schools the option of submitting their SBA samples electronically or physically. Our examination coordinator chose to submit electronically. There was a problem initially with CXC getting the link (to the schools)," McLaren told The Gleaner.

She claimed that other schools were faced with similar problems, "but they printed the samples and took them in physically. Our examination coordinator did not do that".

"I am not sure," McLaren said when asked why her school's examination coordinator, who is also a senior teacher, did not submit the physical copies.

The principal said that after the CXC called, she made checks and realised that the samples had not been submitted, after which the school sent a letter of appeal to the CXC.

A meeting also took place on August 10 at the Overseas Examinations Commission (OEC), the body that administers CXC exams in Jamaica on behalf of the CXC.

"They (CXC Jamaica) indicated that they had forwarded the letter to CXC Barbados and they were awaiting a response. (We were told that) the appeal was still on the table, but the students that were affected would still have got an ungraded mark until the investigation is completed."

In response to Gleaner queries, the OEC's deputy director, Sharon Burnett, said: "SBA samples were not submitted in the subjects affected." However, she could not say whether the students would get a grade in the affected subjects. When asked to respond to the claim that the CXC had a problem getting the link to schools, the OEC said, "The OEC became aware of the problem experienced by the school in August."

The six affected subjects are principles of accounts, office administration, economics, theatre arts, principles of business, and social studies.

Penwood's CSEC results, seen by The Gleaner, show that some students sat only those subjects affected.

Oneifho Goode said that his daughter, who sat the social studies and principles of business exams in June, was left distraught.

"The psychological trauma that the child went through, thinking that she is a failure. That is what upsets me more than all. I am paying for one year of extra classes for her to do these exams, but that's an entire year of money being wasted," he told The Gleaner.

On whether there was a similar situation involving local institutions, the OEC said it "could only respond to matters related to the school in question".

Dr Maurice Smith, permanent secretary in the education ministry, said he had not been aware of the situation before The Gleaner disclosed it to him. He said checks were being made.

Meanwhile, Penwood High says that it has accepted liability and will cover all the costs associated with having the students resit the subjects in January or May-June next year. This, McLaren said, was communicated to parents at a meeting on Tuesday.

As for the examination coordinator and senior teacher, who goes on eight months leave starting September, the principal said "some action" will be taken against the official.

"As a school and as a board, we know what actions we will have to take, but right now, our interest lies in fixing the problem."

Telephone calls to the coordinator went unanswered.