May 2021 Volume 17

Alumni group raises issues with Schools' Challenge Quiz

Reprinted from Loop News
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Ahead of the latest controversy to hit television Jamaica’s (TVJ) long-running schools' challenge quiz (SCQ) in Thursday night’s final between Wolmers’ boys’ school and Ardenne high, a group of 41 alumni associations preemptively wrote to the producers, recommending changes aimed at preventing such an outcome.

Wolmer's was initially announced winner by two points after the final bell in the 2021 championship match, but was eventually declared the loser following a prolonged score review which resulted in a four-point swing for Ardenne.

It was the latest in a number of scoring controversies to hit SCQ - incidents which the Jamaica alumni association of high schools (JAAHS) said "have thrown stain on the impeccable record of the competition with parties on both sides leaving with bitter tastes in their mouths."

The JAAHS made the statement in a lengthy letter addressed to the executive producer of SCQ, Michael Gonzalez, in which it also raised a number of issues and made several recommendations that it said were arrived at after consultation with the coaches of the secondary schools represented.

The letter, obtained by loop news on Friday, was written before the finals, after the group had earlier requested a meeting with the SCQ producers.

JAAHS stressed that the supporting alumni and coaches decided to approach TVJ as a unit, “not to seek redress for some perceived slight against our individual schools but to offer constructive suggestions on improving the SCQ product for all stakeholders”.

“The JAAHS and the coalition of coaches have identified critical areas and issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the SCQ experience for all parties,” it added.

The first issues cited by JAAHS relates to improving quality control. It pointed out that there have been instances where questions lend themselves to ambiguities where more than one correct answer is possible. It has recommended that questions are reviewed with particular focus placed on identifying and modifying those with incorrect answers or questions that may lend themselves to such ambiguities.

The second issue relates to improving consistency in adjudication. According to JAAHS, several instances have been noted where the judges have made about turns in their adjudication on specific questions. It cited such an instance this season where, for a chemistry question, the judges did not accept a valency value without including a charge (negative or positive), only to accept it without same in a subsequent match. The alumni association said it has also been noticed in instances that involve double-barreled names, and articles on proper nouns, movies, etc.

“This inconsistency in how judges’ decisions are applied is then misperceived as bias by schools. This is an unfortunate but inevitable effect where there are such inconsistencies. It also erodes the competition’s and TVJ’s credibility and in the absence of recourse and remedy, stakeholders inevitably feel slighted or worse yet, cheated,” JAAHS stated.

It has recommended that guidelines or a manual are created that will guide the adjudication of common questions and general answers such as proper nouns, chemical notations, foreign language translations etc.

The third issue raised by JAAHS relates to the querying process. While applauding TVJ for finding a solution to the querying problem in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, JAAHS said that the system currently in play, though novel, is highly inefficient.

“It is susceptible to miscommunication and judges’ decisions are at risk of being lost in translation. Even in this current dispensation, the use of a paper-based querying system has elevated covid-19 risks. Additionally, it was accepted that the paper by itself, could not relay the full meat of a query in some instances. This is evidenced by the judges often calling coaches to their table to allow for a detailed explanation of the query, as well as to provide their source for reference”.

It has been recommended that radio or it platforms be utilised to enable coaches to relay their queries directly to the judges. “A sanitised phone or laptop can be given to the coaches who can then communicate directly to the judges via WhatsApp web platform, zoom or other technologically viable alternatives. This will ensure that queries are relayed accurately and the reasons behind the judges’ decision to accept or reject the query are understood clearly. The importance of this understanding must never be understated in maintenance of trust and credibility.

Note, however, that these recommendations are not being masqueraded as a solution to coaches and schools disagreeing with decisions. That is accepted to be an unrealistic ideal,” said JAAHS.

The final issue raised by the alumni association relates to improving question balance. It argued that oftentimes, the team that goes in to bat first is faced with questions that have a reduced level of difficulty vis-à-vis the opposing teams. This, it said has resulted in a trend where the teams that win the coin toss will invariably choose to go first.

JAAHS has recommended that an audit of the methodology used to review the questions as well as the persons involved in the question selection process. “These recommendations are submitted to the producers of TVJ in a spirit of good faith and cooperation. It is hoped and being requested by the JAAHS and the coalition of coaches, that a meeting be convened with all parties to this letter, to discuss the recommended changes. We understand that a lot has been invested by TVJ and its producers to improve the product over the years, and we offer only to assist in continuing that process,” the association concluded.

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