It is well-documented that a large percentage of Cayman Islands public school graduates fail to meet national standards on their Year 11 exams. However, government statistics show that many students are already at a learning disadvantage by the time they exit primary school.
According to the Education Data Report 2020, students tend to ‘underachieve’ in primary school and then ‘catch up’ somewhat in their final years of high school.
This is the third in a planned series of stories analysing the Data Report.
‘Cognitive Abilities Test’
In Years 4, 6 and 9, government schools evaluate students’ “reasoning (thinking) abilities” using what is known as the ‘Cognitive Abilities Test Fourth Edition’ (or CAT4).
CAT4 is not a test of ‘knowledge’ (like the CSECs or GCSEs) but is designed to assess a student’s ability to think — i.e. in terms of words, numbers, shapes, and space.
“CAT4 is also used as a valuable screening tool to identify a pupil’s strengths, weaknesses and learning preferences and to help set challenging but realistic targets. Significant identified variations between the potential measured by CAT4 and actual outcomes can form the basis for further investigation of potential barriers to learning,” according to the report.
The report states that ‘actual outcomes’ for Year 6 students fall significantly short of the predictions made by their CAT4 results. On the other hand, many more Year 11 students end up succeeding on their ‘actual’ exams than predicted by their CAT4 results.
‘Slow starts’ in primary
According to CAT4 predictions, 91% of Cayman’s Year 6 students were expected to meet or exceed national standards in both Reading and Writing, and 82% were expected to pass Maths.
In reality, only 60% passed Reading, 55% passed Writing and 58% passed Maths.
“It is evident that students are underachieving in English and mathematics relative to their CAT estimates (CAT4) and that schools are unable to move students that are on the borderline … to the expected level,” according to the report.
“The challenge therefore, is for schools to get better at identifying and supporting students who are performing below the age level expectations and may be deemed borderline,” the report continues.
“There is need for a re-evaluation of the various interventions that are in-place as performance gaps remain significant over time. Comprehensive strategies aimed at early identification and the provision of appropriate and targeted support need to be developed to support this cohort as it navigates the secondary curriculum.”
‘Late blooming’ in secondary
The report notes that the CAT4 is designed so that the average score is 100 and that results follow a ‘normal’ distribution — i.e., that equal numbers of students will fall above or below the average score.
For Cayman’s public high school students, their average score on the CAT4 was a 91, and their results were “skewed to the left” — meaning scores tended to cluster on the lower end of the scale.
In other words, the CAT4 predicts that a majority of high school students would be unable to meet national standards by graduation.
According to the report, 54% of students had ‘Low’ CAT4 scores, 28% had ‘Average’ scores, and 15% had ‘High’ scores. (About 3% didn’t take the test.)
“These prior attainment results suggest that approximately 43% of the cohort would be expected to meet national targets by the end of KS4,” the report states.
However, in reality, 55% of Year 11 students passed Maths, 70% passed Science and 81% passed English.
“Performance metrics indicate that the actual external examination results significantly exceed predictions particularly in English and science,” according to the report.
The report estimates that between the CAT4 and the Year 11 exams, secondary school students progressed more than 1 grade level above expectations in English, more than 1 grade level above expectations in Science, and about half-a-grade above expectations in Maths.
“The results … imply that schools were able to add significant value by moving lesser able students to achieve acceptable grades particularly in English and science,” according to the report.
Editor’s Note: A future story in this series will examine Year 6 results in greater detail. Results vary greatly among individual primary schools.
Read the Cayman Islands Education Report 2020 here: