As I write this article, a little 12-year-old girl acquaintance is crying. She has been crying all week ever since she got her Test of Standards Report and discovered that she would be placed in One A5 of the secondary school.
Her mother is also crying. She loves her little girl and the sight of her crying breaks her heart. But she has her own reasons to cry. She is a parent who takes a positive interest in her children. She has two. She has monitored their progress in school from the day they entered kindergarten right through primary school.
She carefully scrutinizes her reports to gauge her progress and she was always fairly satisfied that the school was doing as good a job as it could with her child.
Nothing in the reports prepared her for this. One-A5 is the bottom stream. This is where children go when they can find no place in One-A1, One-A2, One A3 and even One-A4. When a child makes it to One-A1 his/her eyes glitter and his/her chest inflates as he/she proudly spread the good news. One-A1 is good news. One-A1 means that the child has a bright future, heading for green pastures and bright skies for the rest of his/her life, as long as nothing on toward happens to interrupt the process.
The One-A2 student is almost as optimistic, while one who gets picked for One-A3 is challenged to make the best of this borderline situation. One-A4 is bad but One-A5 carries a stigma which no explanation could palliate.
An explanation which attempts to mollify the victim and the parent is that, at this bottom stream there needs only be a temporary stay because if the student does well they will move out in a term.
I don’t know what evidence is there to prove how this works but my judgment tells me that it doesn’t.
From my perspective, it is like putting a puppy at the bottom of a shit pit and challenging it to climb out. This is clearly impossible for the puppy because it is at the bottom of the pit and it is stuck in shit. So it seems to me that if a child is good enough to climb out of the cesspool of the bottom stream in 3 months, that child is really and truly a genius and should not have been in that pool in the first place.
How does a child get into the One A5 anyway?
One-A5 means that through the child’s sojourn in primary school after 7 years it has not mastered the basic preparation for secondary school.
So why not? The first thing is that the primary schools do not fulfill their proper role in the education of our children. The way primary schools are run these days, they behave as if they are an end in themselves, educating their 5-12 year olds for life, packing their young minds with an inordinate supply of knowledge to last them for the rest of their lives.
This large helping is too much for most of the young children and many of them, unable to keep up the pace, are still far behind at age 12. Whatever their state of readiness, however, at the age of 12 they all have to leave for high school and those who end up in the bottom streams are those who were not ready/did not complete their primary school preparation.
There are two problems here. One is that the primary school children have too many subjects to do, with the strong likelihood that many of them would not finish. This malpractice arises from the notion that primary school is preparing children for life.
That is the reason why some people think that their little children under the age of 12 should know all kinds of things which even big people don’t know. For instance, there aren’t many adults who know the names of clouds, like cirrus and cumulus. I learnt those mysteries at age 18 when I was a pupil teacher, studying for a geography exam.
They also have to learn the names of all the prime ministers of Caricom. I mean to say, what does it contribute to the life a 12-year-old child to know the name of all these different politicians who change offices ever so often?
Getting to know all these facts is a serious challenge and an encroachment on the lives of these young people. Some of the youth try to rise to the challenge and sacrifice the time they should have to play. Those who find the task too challenging spend their time in play instead and run the risk of ending up in 1A5.
The reason by these little children have to do all these subjects in school is that they have to prepare for a test call the Test of Standards. This is a big test or, more accurately, a series of tests which the poor young ones have to face on their way through primary school.
The Test of Standards is based on the idea that as a child moves through primary school he/she would accumulate sufficient academic knowledge to measure against a standard. The people who administer these tests do not teach and the people who teach do not test. Thus the tests are a disconnect from the ordinary routine of the primary school. That is how my little friend’s mom could be so surprised by the result of the Test of Standards.
The child was in 6A2 in her primary school and her first term result last year was satisfactory by her grade teacher’s assessment. Her term marks were:
Language Arts 81, Reading Comprehension 85, Spelling & Vocabulary 66, Composition 70, Mathematics 76, Social Studies 75, Science 67. Her end of term exam results were: Language Arts 74, Reading Comprehension 53, Spelling & Vocabulary 86, Composition 83, Mathematics 71, Social Studies 68, Science 71.
Angela was never absent and never late.
She was always in the top ten of her classes. But she couldn’t measure up to the standard because her tests in school were unrelated to her Test of Standards. Thus the shock and the rivers of tears of both her and her mom.
The Test of Standards are counter- productive. They put the children under years of stress to try to reach the standard. It puts their parents under stress as well. It is so fiercely competitive that mothers and children suffer nightmares about the final outcome of these tests. Those mothers who have the money spend it on after-school preparation for their children especially as they approach the end of their primary years.
One prominent local doctor has remarked that around this time of the year he sees many cases of hypertension among fairly young parents of 12 year-old children. When I raised my brows at this frighten information, I was told that among the doctors clients are twelve and eleven year olds.
I find this frightening. It is a potential danger to parents and their children. This is one of the reasons why the British Education System abolished the eleven plus exam, years ago.
When women begin to get high-blood pressure in their twenties and thirties and children suffer adult diseases in their infant years, it is time to revisit the Test of Standards to determine the efficacy or detriment of this feature in our Primary School.