Thursday, February 20, 2014

GSAT Ranking and School Size

The Jamaica Gleaner recently published an analysis of 2013 GSAT Scores, ranking schools according to their performance. The analysis revealed that the average performance of students attending Prep Schools exceeded that of Primary Schools. Most of the ensuing discussion focussed on reasons for this disparity. However, after taking part in the Twitter Chat on Feb 18, 2014, I was interested in putting together some data on the differences between rural and urban schools in St. James. I chose four rural, underpopulated schools and three urban schools for my investigation. I took data from Jamaica's Ministry of Education website  and the Gleaner's Survey.  The figures show that there are indeed underpopulated schools, with enrolments far below their capacity. They have enviable pupil teacher ratios, but abysmal performance. Their average GSAT scores are well below the  national average of 258, as shown in the table below. 

Parish: St. James
 School Name               %       Capacity    Current       No of     Pupil       # of           Ave 
                                 attend                     Enrolment  Teachers   Teacher  GSAT      Score      
                                                                                                 Ratio       entrants
Lottery Primary             82         260             53            6              27:1         6            211

Mount Zion Primary       93         150            38            3              19:1         3            161
Mount Horeb 
All Age and Infant          76         200            42            4              14:1         1            163
Salters Hill All Age        90         215            40            3              20:1          4            220
Granville All Age           73         710           385          26            18:1         74            239
Corinaldi Ave Prim        95         875         1,675         52            36:1       265            313
Memorial Primary         94         585          1,157         33            39:1       191           284

     Of the urban schools, Corinaldi Avenue and Chetwood Memorial Primary are overpopulated, but are performing above the national average. Corinaldi made it into the top 100 schools in the survey, and GSAT's top boy, Mark Brown, attended Chetwood.  What is is about these urban schools which makes them perform so well? Yes, they have good teachers and good principals, but that cannot be the only reason for their success. I contend that it is the parents who make the difference. Parents have choices and the more concerned parents are the first to register their children in what they perceive to be the better schools. Being concerned parents means that they have done the best for their children up to the point of entry to the primary school, with many of these children alreay being able to read. These children perform better, therefore raising the standard of the school even more. 
      The underpopulation of the rural schools occurs not only because of rural-urban drift, but because these particular schools are seen as non-performers. What may have begun as a result of weak leadership, ends with concerned parents removing their children from these schools. With the exodus of better students, the standard of these schools drops even more. I think the facilities could be better used if these schools were turned into basic schools, and the present students sent to the nearest suitable school. Mount Horeb All Age and Infant School is about 4 miles from Cambridge where there are both primary and secondary schools. Based on the numbers, there would only be 4 students per grade to transfer. There is always an outcry when a suggestion is made to close a school, but as far as I can see, these schools are not benefitting the children attending them. 
      One reason Corinaldi is able to do so well is the the classes, although large, are more homogenous in relation to the ability of the students. There is a six-stream entry and, as children are ranked according to ability, teachers can tailor their classes to suit the learning rate of their pupils. In an underpoplulated school, each teacher would have to teach two or more grade levels.
New Building at Chetwood Memorial Primary School
    Chetwood was able to increase its capacity with some funding from the Catholic Church, which enabled it to construct a new building with five classrooms, a library, a computer room and an office for the guidance counsellor. The school also boasts a computer based system of teaching reading, and achieved 95% mastery in the 2013 Grade 4 Literacy Test.
    Children are coming to Chetwod from as far away as Mahfoota and Retirement. Why is a student from Retirement not attending Granville All Age? Here is an example of a school that has got a bad name in the past. For whatever the reason was, there is no justifiction for that now. When I did a bookreading there in 2012, I found the children to be well-behaved and attentive. However, as a good reputation takes a long time to build, the school is still underpopulated.

Granville All Age School
 The schools I chose for this discussion represent opposite extremes. Of course there are many rural schools which are not underpopulated and are performing well; and there are urban schools which are not overpopulated and are not doing so well. Attendance and punctuality  also impact schools' performance. All schools also have their quota of malnourished children, and children with undiagnosed and untreated behavioural and learning disorders. When members of the diaspora are deciding how they can give assistance, the problems may appear to be overwhelming. However, I think that their decisions should be based on available data, rather than on common  misconceptions. I hope this post has helped to dispel some of these.
     Last but not least, I would like to recommend support of the Granville Reading and Art Programme, GRAP, spearheaded by Natalie Bennett. It is making a tremendous difference in the community of Granville.

No comments: