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Dear Editor: Shouldn’t the media make the distinction between CXC and GCE grading?

‘[…] ‘Distinction’ is a term which was used in the GCE ‘O’ and ‘A-Level’ examinations and has no place or equivalence in CXC’s grades. CXC simply says that a particular performance was excellent.

‘CXC uses criterion reference assessment, a procedure that can be compared to having qualifying standards in Athletics… (S)he clears that height and qualifies; (s)he does not qualify with distinction. CXC grades are awarded on the basis of a candidate’s having met the minimum standard for that grade…’

The following Letter to the Editor highlighting an error allegedly repeated in media reporting on the CAPE results was submitted to Wired868 by former secondary school principal and former chief examiner for CSEC Geography Michael Clarke of Diego Martin:

Photo: SAGHS students plant a tree during the Plastic Bag Reduction Campaign.
(Copyright Ministry of Public Administration)

I am writing with the hope that my letter, if published, will help end the annual false reporting of CAPE results in which students are said to earn ‘distinctions’. Any claim that a ‘distinction’ has been earned should be ignored; it is simply wrong.

When a student writes the examination in five subjects and claims over a dozen ‘distinctions’, the question has to be asked, ‘How is that possible?’

It is not possible, even if CXC had a category called ‘distinction’. At best, the number would match the number of subjects written. (A candidate would earn the label for the overall performance in a subject). However, CXC has no such term in its assessment grid.

‘Distinction’ is a term which was used in the GCE ‘O’ and ‘A-Level’ examinations and has no place or equivalence in CXC’s grades. CXC simply says that a particular performance was excellent.

CXC uses criterion reference assessment, a procedure that can be compared to having qualifying standards in Athletics. So in High Jump, an athlete has to clear a given height to qualify to participate in a certain competition. (S)he clears that height and qualifies; (s)he does not qualify with distinction.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Semoy Hackett competes in the Women’s 4x100m relay final during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 19 August 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2017/ Johannes Eisele)

CXC grades are awarded on the basis of a candidate’s having met the minimum standard for that grade. The candidate meets the standard, (s)he gets the relevant grade.

In CAPE, numerical grades, using Roman numerals I to VII, are awarded, with Grade I being the highest; there is no such thing as Grade I ‘with distinction’.

The syllabus for each CAPE subject is divided into two Units (Units 1 and 2) and each unit has three modules.  Grades are awarded for the performance in each unit. For example, one candidate in 2021 had the results below:

Subject                                 Unit            Grade

Communication Studies Unit 1        II
Environmental Science Unit 2        III
Geography Unit 1        II
Tourism Unit 1        I

As a guide to the candidate and the teachers, CXC gives a comment on the performance in each of the three modules in the unit. This is comparable to a coach in athletics advising an athlete on the strength of his/her performance in an event. So a track athlete may receive comments on his/her start, transition or finish in a 100m dash.

In CXC results, each candidate is told how he/she did in the three modules. Each module is given a letter grade, A to G. So, for the example given above, the results given would read as follows:

SUBJECT UNIT GRADE PROFILE INFO
Communication Studies Unit 1 II B  B  B
Environmental Science Unit 2 III D  C  C
Geography Unit 1 II B  D  B
Tourism Unit 1 I A  A  B

Another student writing in the same year but writing Biology instead of Tourism had the results below:

SUBJECT UNIT GRADE PROFILE INFO
Biology Unit 1 II A  B  B
Communication Studies Unit 1 I B  A  A
Environmental Science Unit 2 II B  B  B
Geography Unit 1 I A  A  A

The components of each profile are given so that the candidate, teachers and anyone else who needs to know can see what was assessed. For example, in Communication Studies, the modules in the profile are as follows:

Communication Gathering and processing information
Studies Language and community
Speaking and writing

In Geography, in Unit 1, the modules are as follows:

Geography Population and settlement
Hydrological, fluvial, coastal and limestone environments
Natural events and hazards

Here, Glenroy Cumberbatch, a former CXC registrar, shares information on the grades for CAPE and CSEC examinations. I have extracted the descriptions for the CAPE grades below:

‘[…] GRADES are not awarded for a particular score but for the demonstration of the levels of competencies, abilities and skills required for a particular GRADE.

‘GRADES are reported two ways: an overall grade for the subject (Unit), reported as a Roman numeral…’

Table 1 Overall Grade Descriptors for CAPE

GRADE I Represents an excellent performance
GRADE II Represents a very good standard of performance
GRADE III Represents a good standard of performance
GRADE IV Represents a satisfactory standard of performance
GRADE V Represents an acceptable standard of performance
GRADE VI Represents a weak standard of performance
GRADE VII Represents an unsatisfactory standard of performance

And a module grade, reported as a letter, for each of the three modules of the unit:

Table 3 Module Grades for CAPE:
A Excellent
B Very Good
C Good
D Satisfactory
E Acceptable
F Weak
G Unsatisfactory

CXC does not at this time disclose its grade boundaries.  Each grade is determined by a range of marks both at the unit level and in the module profile of the unit.

Unlike the practice in the GCE Examinations, where a candidate may earn a Grade A with Distinction, CXC’s numerical grade has no other comment but the candidate’s performance in the modules is reported. Thus in the two examples given, one student got this:

Environmental Science Unit 2 III D  C  C

And the other, this:

Environmental Science Unit 2 II B  B  B

The grades in the modules show the quality of the performance of each candidate.

In Geography, the first student earned Grade II:

Geography  Unit 1 II B  D  B

The other earned Grade I:

Geography Unit 1 I A  A  A

From the description of the grades given by Cumberbatch, the second student had excellent work in each of the modules in Geography and earned a Grade 1 overall. (S)he did not earn any distinctions. In each module, the work was excellent. It was not excellent with distinction! An A means excellent work; that is all.

In Geography, the first student had B, D, B, and earned a Grade 2. The work in two modules, ‘Population and settlement’ and ‘Natural events and hazards’ was very good while the work in ‘Hydrological, fluvial, coastal and limestone environments’ was satisfactory.

Another candidate earned a Grade I in Geography Unit 1 with the profiles C, A, A:

Geography Unit 1 I C  A  A

Despite having a C in the Module on ‘Population and settlement’, the student’s excellent work in the other two modules earned him/her an overall result of Grade I. An excellent performance.

In addition, if the school wants to know the Order of Merit, CXC can provide that information as ‘C, A, A’ may yield a higher total than ‘A, A, A’. Each grade has a range of marks and, in Geography, the three modules have the same maximum mark so a high C and two high A’s may have a higher total than three low A’s.

I sincerely hope that the information I have given is enough to show that one does not earn a pass with distinction in any subject in the CXC examinations. An ‘A’ grade just means the candidate did excellent work.

It would be excellent if the media would make the distinction between what GCE did and what CXC now does.

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