Sharp decline recorded in CSEC English ‘A’ – Senior CXC official
After two years of reasonable performances in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English ‘A’ exams, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) has recorded a sharp decline in the subject area this year. This was highlighted by Senior Assistant Registrar, Dr. Gordon Harewood, when he addressed a CXC forum at the Guyana International Conference Centre on Thursday last.
The significant decline, he pointed out, is evident by the mere 47 per cent of candidates achieving the widely accepted Grades of between One and Three. The achievement this year in the subject area is viewed as particularly dismal, since CXC over the previous
two years had recorded 60 plus per cent passes at Grade One through Three.
“We haven’t done the real granular analysis to have all the answers. That would require a really dedicated set of persons, but we know what some of the weaknesses are,” he asserted.
Among the evident weaknesses is the fact that some candidates are incapable of summary writing. He pointed to question one on the examination paper, where students are required to read a passage and summarise it in a set number of words while at the same time making sure that they capture all of the important points. This he said left much to be desired.
“We have flagged in this before as a challenge and this year it continues to be a particular challenge,” Dr. Harewood noted.
In addition to that, he disclosed that in the area of comprehension, CXC has observed that what candidates found taxing this year were the questions which required a slightly higher level of comprehension.
The English ‘A’ paper usually comprises two comprehension passages and there are different styles of writing and several questions on each passage. Candidates are required to peruse the passages and extrapolate factual information.
Dr. Harewood revealed that candidates did fairly well in their attempt to pick out the important information, but fell short when responding to questions which required a little more critical thinking.
The English ‘A’ paper has two profiles – understanding and expression – with candidates performing much better on understanding than on expression this year.
“This is something that we have been flagging in for some years and feedback comes to us too, which tells us about students who get decent overall grades but cannot write properly, and this is what is being reflected here.”
The reflection of the grades further suggest that since candidates are not able to acquire good scores on both understanding and expression, they by extension may have missed out on a better grade.
According to Dr. Harewood, there were clear disparities in performances in the two profiles. He added too that the CXC Subject Awards Committee on completion of the grading exercise noticed that in terms of writing, candidates obviously are using resources available. However, this in some cases indicated that students attempted to copy and in several instances quite inappropriately.
“The writings where candidates did very poorly came across as being very rehearsed. In many cases where weaknesses in expression were demonstrated in essays, we saw where candidates had obviously learnt phrases and expressions and were reproducing them without really taking into account, context or appropriateness. So taken by itself, phrases might sound very good, but they didn’t fit in…They weren’t that coherent in the compositions.”
Now we want them to read the good short stories and the exemplars that we have on our website, but it has to be a collaborative effort with students and teachers. The aim is to internalise the good writings that you see so that you can have your own rather than somebody else’s writing,” Dr. Harewood stressed.
He insisted that the writings exhibited on the CXC website are only intended to serve as models to encourage candidates to get to the stage where they can effectively use and create personal compositions.
According to the senior official, “that cannot happen overnight and it certainly can’t start in fourth or fifth forms but much lower down.”
Moreover, he intimated the urgency for students to embrace the reading of good writings, adding that “the only way you would write better in the exam is if you write and rewrite, and write during classes as you prepare for the exam.”
It is imperative, according to Dr. Harewood, that students get feedback from their teacher and seek to redraft their writings and make it better ahead of entering the flagship examination.
In recognition of some of the difficulties candidates face, he revealed that CXC will from next year be seeking to build into its instructions, for the subject area, the need for candidates to make a plan ahead of writing.
However, despite the decline in the performance this year, Dr. Harewood assured that it does not appear to be a hopeless situation.
“I am concerned about the result… but despair? No I am not in a state of despair.” He pointed to the internet as a powerful technology available today to help intervene in the subject areas that are not doing as well as they should, adding that “if we all as a Region embrace this technology and really use it to the max then we will see improvements from our collaborative efforts. It is not going to happen overnight but it will happen incrementally.”