CSEC English A pass rate plummets

20th August 2012, St. John’s Antigua- Much has been made of secondary schools’ dismal math pass rate in the 2012 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, but a closer look at statistics reveals the lack of performance in English A (language) is of equal concern.

The mathematics pass rate this year stood at 27 per cent, a two per cent drop from 2011. The pass rate was 35 per cent in 2010. While math is a subject that students have historically struggled with, English A usually garners better pass rates.

The English A pass rate for Antigua & Barbuda this year was 57.8 per cent, representing a significant decline of 22 per cent from 2011. The overall regional pass rate was 47 per cent, declining from 67 per cent in 2011.

Minister of Education, Dr Jacqui Quinn Leandro, attributed the decline in English to a new syllabus introduced last year. “There has been a decline as teachers become acclimatised to this new English syllabus,” she said.

For the June 2012 exam, CXC made two significant changes to the English Language exam. Paper one is a multiple choice exam that previously consisted of 40 reading comprehension questions made up primarily of reading passages and poetry. This year, the same section required students to comprehend a poem, and narrative, expository, persuasive, and visual abstracts.

Paper two consists of summary writing, short answer reading comprehension, short story/descriptive, and a persuasive essay, and has remained basically the same.

The other major change came with the weighting of papers one and two.  Previously, 37 per cent of the total exam grade came from paper one, and 63 per cent from paper two. The ratio was changed to 24: 76 per cent, respectively.

The component of the exam, which required students to write and express themselves, was more heavily weighted this time around.

A veteran teacher, who wished to remain anonymous as she had not yet perused the Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) English A report, said paper two requires students to present an argument and to write a story and that is where the problem generally lies.

“The problem really is in the expression profile of the exam, where students are asked to write essays and stories,” explained the teacher of over 30 years. “Children are not reading, not paying attention to things like grammar and spelling, not listening to the news.”

The CXC report for English in January 2012, expressed similar sentiments stating that some students were “seriously handicapped by poor vocabulary.”

Icilma Benjamin, English teacher of 31 years, in an interview with OBSERVER Media said teachers instruct students under the assumption that we live in an English-speaking country.

“English is supposed to be our first language. It is supposed to be the language in which we communicate our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. But that is a fallacy.”

Benjamin said we have reached the stage now where English should be taught as second languages are taught.

“We need to teach English like how we teach a foreign language such as German and Spanish. We can’t take anything for granted.”

In addition, she suggests that teachers need to give the students more opportunity to speak out loud, “Because talk is expression and you can get to correct them right away,” she said.

“If you give them a lot of opportunities for verbal expression you can assess their weakness based on their vocabulary, their diction, if they mix up tenses, and fix it right there and then.”

This year, 52 per cent of males passed English A as compared to 62 per cent of females. Despite dismal performance by some schools, there were seven schools who had an English A pass rate greater than 80 per cent. Baptist Academy and Island Academy had 100 per cent passes, Antigua Girl’s High School had 96 per cent, Antigua Grammar School 88 per cent, Christ the King High School 92 per cent, St Joseph’s Academy 89 per cent, and St Anthony’s Secondary School 83 per cent.