The CXC Exam Crisis 2020: Communication Is A Good Thing

By Paula-Anne Moore

There are myriad issues which have been revealed as suboptimal in this 2020 Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exam crisis: the 2020 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) results, the core output of CXC, which have disadvantaged hundreds of our nation’s children and thousands regionally.

Among the issues: deficiencies in CXC’s grading methodology and School-Based Assessment (SBA) moderation process; the use of questions previously in the public arena which represented the bulk of Paper one; an overambitious revised exam structure which required thousands more SBAs to be moderated, which probably overwhelmed the technological and human resource capabilities of the ‘regional educational ecosystem’, already challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic; and the role of the likely algorithm used to assign (some) grades.

A key issue is also the role of the apparent ineffective quality assurance within CXC, which should have identified and proactively managed: any alleged deficiencies in teacher grading of SBAs in prior years; thousands of SBAs which apparently were not received by CXC; and gross discrepancies in some results, at either end of the spectrum, when compared with the historical performance of those schools.

These issues, and their management, have fundamentally serious implications re CXC’s competence and credibility.

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CXC’s poor communications response, nearly eight weeks into this debacle, only compounds the questions regarding CXC’s competence. Hard truths are still truths; defensiveness and refusal to accept ownership of even some of these challenges destroy public trust, which is almost impossible to regain thereafter.

The initial communication during the week of September 22 was incredibly arrogant, tone deaf and callous. “There is nothing wrong; it’s business as usual,” in the face of a regional outcry of tens of thousands, was astonishing, especially when innocent children, already stressed by a pandemic, were those disadvantaged, and who trust us adults to protect them from harm.

The core message of CXC’s press conference of October 19 was “we did nothing wrong”. Two weeks after the release of the report of the Independent Review Team (IRT), there has been silence in CXC’s public communication. No status updates on the grade review process. Very few reviews have been returned, despite CXC’s commitment at the press conference to returning these reviews WITHIN ONE WEEK.

Who is conducting these reviews: the very teachers whose integrity was questioned? What is the estimated time for the review process to be concluded? How will CXC ensure that it will be seen to fairly balance its imperative to prove that it is a credible, competent public examining body with what should be its central core imperative: how does CXC ensure that these innocent children are not permanently disadvantaged, and effectively punished, due to systemic deficiencies, wherever they originate?

Rights To Justice

Yes, these children represent a small minority of the 2020 candidates. That should not negate their rights to justice. Nor should their origination from traditional centres of academic excellence. They should not become ‘collateral damage’ as we seek to address national socio-economic disparities.

Excellence in all spheres of human endeavour – sports, creative arts, vocational and academic – must continue to be nurtured as part of our region’s strategic development. Academic achievement is nothing to feel ashamed of, and still forms a fundamental plank of national development, worldwide. We must continue to ensure that it is nurtured in our region, simultaneous with ensuring ALL of our children are provided with opportunities to develop their strengths, if we wish to sustain our regional competitive advantage and growth.

This current situation has utterly demoralised these negatively impacted children and their teachers, and has long-term implications for them, AND future candidates.

It is essential that CXC engages in much better communication, responsiveness and genuine engagement with its stakeholders, which are not just governments, but include teachers, children and parents. We are not adversaries; we share a common goal: the betterment of our beloved region.

Unanswered Questions

The IRT report included recommendations to improve communications between CXC and its ultimate clients, the public, inclusive of ‘damage control’. This has not happened, and significant public questions remain unanswered, nearly eight weeks after the beginning of this crisis.

This lack of communication is a worrying signal of CXC’s credibility, competency and willingness to adhere to 21st-century world-class best practices as a public examining body. It could be perceived as part of a fundamental breech of CXC’s public obligations.

Extended vacuums of communication can lead to more adversarial roads, which should be avoided. We will, however, leave no stone unturned to ensure that justice is done for our children.

The UK 2020 GCSE/A Level Crisis precedent, and its 72-hour resolution, had as an expressly stated objective by the UK education authorities leniency in the best interest, and to minimise the stress, of their adversely affected students. Surely, we will do no less for our own children.

This 2020 CXC crisis is a ‘canary in the coal mine’. ALL of us in the region should be concerned, whether we have children negatively affected or not. The implications are not just for the adversely affected 2020 candidates. If what was revealed as broken is not fixed, inclusive of communication, 2021 and other future candidates will be adversely affected as well. Deficiencies will only worsen, to the detriment of CXC’S long-term performance and credibility, regionally and internationally.

CXC is sick. CARICOM cannot thrive if CXC, and therefore the education bloodstream of CARICOM, is ailing.

– Paula-Anne Moore is the Spokesperson/Lead Coordinator of the Concerned Parent Group of Barbados. 

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