Wednesday, 12 September 2018

IS PEP HARDER THAN GSAT? All about the new secondary-school placement exam

SCHOOL'S IN: PEP aims to make the kids' learning experience deeper and more meaningful.

THE Common Entrance made way for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), and with the dawn of the 2018/19 academic year, the stage is being set for GSAT to be replaced by the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) as the national secondary-school placement examination. But how does PEP stand apart from its predecessors? In a nutshell, according to the Education ministry, the new exam is intended to provide a more complete profile of students’ academic and critical-thinking capabilities at the end of their primary-level years – better preparing them for the next stage of their education. 

How does PEP differ from GSAT? 
“The Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) was an exam that included only one form of assessment – traditional assessment,” explains Michael-Anthony Dobson-Lewis, a curriculum/instruction/assessment specialist and a teacher for more than two decades. “The shift now with PEP is to move away from lower-order thinking skills to higher-order thinking skills. As such, there is the shift from only traditional assessment to alternative assessment, authentic assessment and performance assessment.” 

Are the components more challenging than what the GSAT offered? 
According to Dobson-Lewis, the PEP is a more comprehensive form of examination. “It includes all the various methods for determining the extent to which students are achieving the intended learning outcomes/objectives of instruction based on the curriculum,” he explains. “So with PEP, there is the shift from assessing knowledge and comprehension to assessing application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation… PEP will better prepare students for the secondary level, tertiary level and the world of work.” 

How exactly will students be tested? 
The PEP consists of three components: a performance task, an ability test and a curriculum-based test. “The test items are age-appropriate, [requiring] reasoning, so the student is now going to have to think through and justify his answer,” notes Education minister, Senator Ruel Reid. “This is the new testing methodology that we need to adapt to.” 

What do teachers and principals need to know? 
Herleen Kitson-Walters, a retired educator and mentor for over 40 years, advises, “With this move towards a more rigorous assessment, carefully scaffolded concepts and skills must be delivered daily in every classroom.” The shift, adds Dobson-Lewis, will require more work on the part of teachers to result in the learning process being more meaningful. “The truth is that teachers should be teaching to develop critical thinking in our students,” he says, “and not teaching [for the] test, as was the case with GSAT.” 

What do parents and guardians need to know?
PEP workshops are being scheduled for September and October for parents and guardians to be fully informed about what PEP has to offer. “[The PEP camps] are going to be held on weekends because we are cognizant of the fact that parents do work and we don’t want you to take too much time off from work. We will be having these camps in selected areas right across the country,” says Chief Education Officer, Dr. Grace McLean. The camp setting will allow for a thorough and interactive breakdown of the exam components. “We will give you an opportunity as parents to go through brainstorming questions and to understand the approach that you are to use to guide your children at home.” 

How does Mr. Holness feel about the impending switchover from GSAT to PEP? 
The Prime Minister argues that this is yet another “opportunity for the transformation of our people.” The PEP, he points out, is devised to create Jamaicans who are interested in finding solutions and applying existing knowledge to our current problems. “I think the transition from GSAT to PEP will be better for the country,” he concedes, “and for the generations to come.”

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