***Editor’s note: This is the first in a planned series of stories analysing the Education Data Report 2021.***
After a spike in test scores in 2020, Year 11 exam results for Cayman Islands public secondary school students in 2021 regressed to levels on par with previous years.
In total, 40% of Cayman’s Year 11 students met the ‘national expectation’ on exams, meaning they achieved 5 or more Level 2 passes, including in English and Mathematics.
In 2020, test administrators in the UK and Caribbean adjusted their exams in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in Cayman's scores in Spring 2021 coincided with the Caribbean Examination Council's decision to return to its usual practices.
The 40% pass rate dropped sharply from the 56% pass rate in 2020 and is a slight increase from the 39% pass rate in 2019.
However, only 1 of Cayman's 3 public high schools posted better results in 2021 than 2019 -- Clifton Hunter High School.
Once again the national bar was set by Layman E. Scott Sr. High School, where 55% of Year 11 students met national expectations. However, that was a decline from 76% in 2020 and 72% in 2019.
At Clifton Hunter, 49% of Year 11 students met national expectations in 2021. That was a 10-point improvement over the 39% pass rate in 2019, and a decline of 'only' 7 points from the 56% mark in 2020.
John Gray High School posted a Year 11 pass rate of 32% in 2021, down from 53% in 2020 and 37% in 2019.
The results from 2021 mark a return to the national average from recent years. From 2011 to 2015, the national pass rate increased from 18% to 38%. Since then, pass rates have ranged between 36% and 42% (excepting the outlying results from 2020).
The 2020 Data Report noted that the COVID-19 pandemic caused changes to how the exams were administered in Spring 2020, and cautioned that those results may need to be taken with a grain of salt.
"It is unclear whether differences should be attributed to changes in the underlying student performances or to the changes in the approach to assessment taken by the various examining Boards to award grades," according to the report.
The 2021 Data Report likewise states, "Comparative analyses with respect to quantifying year-on-year system improvements, should be viewed with some degree of caution when these results are mapped against the 2020 metrics given the variations to the normal examinations process [...] As such, results in 2021 are more comparable to standards achieved in 2019, especially in cases where the data and associated meaning and inferences are used to influence policy creation and development."
The Spring 2021 exams took place at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year, during which time Cayman remained in a 'COVID-free bubble' and there were no pandemic-related disruptions to secondary schools, unlike in the current 2021-2022 school year.
Commenting on the release of the 2021 Data Report, Department of Education Services Director Mark Ray said 2021 results should be compared to scores from 2019 rather than 2020.
"In 2021, [the Caribbean Examinations Council] reintroduced the full suite of examinations in line with previous years and for this reason, we believe that the 2021 results are more comparable to those obtained in 2019," he said.
Exam results for individual schools are available starting in 2015. Since that time, Layman Scott has beat the national average by anywhere from 15 to 41 points.
The 17-point performance gap between Clifton Hunter and John Gray in 2021 is the largest on record. Previously, Clifton Hunter had maintained a 2- to 7- point advantage over John Gray from 2015 to 2020.