From measurement to action: Using data to improve learning in the Caribbean
Every year for the past 40 years, thousands of nervous students from the English-speaking Caribbean sit at their school desks’ to take a test that will change their lives. These evaluations are administered by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC). CXC’s Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations are applied at the end of compulsory secondary education to approximately 120,000 students from English-speaking Caribbean countries (16 territories currently participate) to measure student performance. CSEC exam results constitute the main credential used to pursue higher education or to enter the job market. These tests are “high stakes” for the individual students because their performance determines their future. Sadly, in many countries less than half of those who sit the exam attain satisfactory pass rates in key areas such as English language and math.
The individual results from these standardized tests, as well as national averages, are given back to Ministries of Education. Some publish them, some discuss them at ministry meetings, and some send the results back to the schools. But rarely are they used systematically to reflect on student and school performance, or to identify learning gaps so teachers can make changes in the teaching/learning process. As a result, the bad news is repeated year after year. In the words of one Caribbean educator, “You can’t make a pig fat by weighing it”.
Critical disconnects lead to inaction or ineffective actions
On October 28-29, 2013, Ministry of Education head planners and statisticians from 14 countries came together for a workshop entitled: “Using data to Improve Education Outcomes in the Caribbean.” The workshop was sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in collaboration with the OECS Education Development Management Unit (EDMU) and the CXC. Speakers included regional educators who shared ongoing initiatives in their own countries, and international experts.
Photos taken during the workshop by Marcellus Albertin, Head Education Development Management Unit, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
Workshop participants discussed why the results of national or international assessments are not used more often to feed back into teacher training, teaching methodology, curriculum, and assessment to improve what happens in the classroom. The participants identified disconnects at the system and school levels.
Most initiatives to improve monitoring and evaluation data focus on assessments to collect the data, improvements in reliability, and development of systems to store and report that data. However, other key questions often not addressed are:
- Is there a clear vision of what to do with the data?
- Is there sufficient technical and institutional capacity in the Ministries and at the schools to analyze the data and learn from it to inform policy or improve classroom practices?
- Do the protagonists (principals and teachers) find the data useful? Why or why not?
- What can be done to turn the results of student evaluations into useful tools for changing practices at the school and classroom levels?
These questions do not have simple answers. We invite you to share your thoughts. And stay tuned to our next blog post to find out what good practices were identified and what insights were exchanged during the workshop discussions!