October 2013 Volume 10

Ranking Kingston College?

Professor Stephen Vasciannie
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KC Times sought the views of former Kingston College Board Chairman Stephen Vasciannie on the recent publication of a table ranking the performance of secondary schools in Jamaica, based on examination results.  There has been what has been described as a "huge outcry" arising from the publication.  Stephen has offered the following response in his personal capacity.

Educate Jamaica, a private organization, has presented a full listing of schools on the basis of performance of schools in the Caribbean Secondary Examination (CSec), taken by students in Grade 11.  For Kingston College, I am not sure that the Educate Jamaica table justifies a huge outcry, or indeed a significant outcry at all.

There has been no consistent ranking over the years.  The results in the table represent performance for one year (2012).  The researchers have taken one standard -- success in 5 subjects including Mathematics and English -- but there is no magic in this standard.  It may well be that the table would look different if they took four subjects, or six subjects, and so on. 

Some years ago, I did an abbreviated ranking using only Mathematics and English, on the assumption that these were the core subjects.  KC did reasonably well with Mathematics but fell down with English, I recall.  So, this suggested where we should place emphasis.  But, to be sure, the results vary from year to year.

Perhaps the most important criticism of this type of table is that it does not measure the value added by a given school.  The researchers present the results in a beauty contest format ("the best school is X, the worst school is Y etc.") without telling us about the performance level of the students when they entered School X, School Y and so forth.  Everyone knows that Campion gets the top students from the GSAT, and so, it would be a cause for concern if they did not end up with the top results -- or results very close to the top -- five years later.

A second criticism of the Educate Jamaica approach concerns what the table purports to demonstrate.  The introductory statement to the table suggest that if 90% of a school's cohort passes the requisite subjects, then your child has a 90% chance of succeeding at the school: this seems to me to be an incorrect statistical interpretation, given that a five-year gap exists between the graduating year and the year when a child enters the school.

As to KC, the intake from the GSAT also tends to vary from year to year, so we would need more information to reach a final judgment on the value added by KC for any given cohort.  Dr. Peter-John Gordon, a member of the KC Board, has done very useful work in this area for the school.

Any assessment of the value added by KC would also need to bear in mind the size of the KC intake and output.  My understanding is that the number of students from KC taking the CSec Examination is relatively high.  At the top end students excel, and get better grades than our classes did when we were at KC.  But at the other end, there are too many students who are not making the grade.  The system needs to find ways to reduce the size of the underperforming group at KC.

The table ranks KC at 22nd, and indicates that 70.8% of the KC cohort obtained 5 or more subjects, including Mathematics and English Language.  My impression -- based on the 70.8% -- is that this is a better performance level than that associated with KC in the 1970s, and probably in other decades since then.  But, as the figure also means that about 3 boys out of 10 do not garner 5 passes with the two core subjects, we need to lift up the underperforming group.

So, my perspective on the table is that we should note what it says, and we should use it as a reminder that all stakeholders at KC need to redouble our efforts to contribute to the school.  The table tells us that KC needs to be improved, but it does not tell us about the precise areas that need improvement.  KC's distinguished Principal Dave Myrie and the members of staff are in the best position to identify the particular needs and solutions to assist the school.  From the outside, matters for consideration may include, but are not limited to:

(a) improvement in English Language performance,

(b) greater focus on Mathematics,

(c) commitment to ensuring that more students are pulled up out of the underperforming group,

(d) provision of incentives for teachers who are sometimes demotivated by large class sizes and unimpressive working conditions,

(e) continued emphasis on ensuring discipline within the school, and

(f) enhancement of the overall intellectual climate in the school, relying on a high-performing Sixth Form (Grades 12 and 13) as the model for the rest of the school.  Enhancement of the intellectual climate must also include providing good laboratories, computer facilities, and libraries for students.  These facilities at KC today are decidedly substandard (unless they have been improved over the last year or so).

I also believe that there needs to be further consideration as to the point in the system at which good students coming out of GSAT (85% marks and above) start to slip at KC.  If we can keep these students in, say, Third Form (Grade 9) on the right track, KC's ranking on any table will be much better.

Finally, I share the view that strong examination performance must be central to the mission of Kingston College and all other schools.  We must always remain mindful, though, that schools have related objectives including the inculcation of values, and the general preparation of students to play valuable roles in the wider society.  School must also seek to provide an environment in which students are made to feel comfortable in the world of learning, with a sense of espirit de corps, confident, disciplined, exposed to extra-curricular activities, and assured that they are respected as individuals.  In the nature of things, some of these important considerations are not incorporated into the ranking under consideration.


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