Concerns About CXC Grading

The following article is reproduced from the Jamaica Observer newspaper. The article resonates because it dispels the notion that concerns expressed in the Barbados space about CXC are misplaced. Many continue to question the integrity of the grading system and the public remains none the wiser.

Discuss for 10 marks.




Staff reporter
Sunday, October 22, 2017

The integrity of the region’s secondary examination has been brought into question as some educators are uncomfortable with the recently implemented electronic marking system.

The high school teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the value of grades issued by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) has degraded since the system’s implementation.

“The major concern is the results, what we are expecting as teachers, we are not getting,” one teacher, who heads the English Department at a Corporate Area school, said.

The CXC syllabus covers two years — grades 10 and 11 — and it is within this period of teaching and assessing that teachers are able to pinpoint whether a child is likely to pass, and with what grade.

According to the CXC website, candidates are awarded grades between one and six, with a grade one representing an “outstanding performance” and grade six, a representation of “a very limited standard of performance”.

“I am a teacher of English and there are some children in my class who I know can’t write a sentence and they go up and they get a [grade] one,” she said while noting acceptance that teachers aren’t always correct.

The department head related that the school’s equivalent in the Modern Languages Department also expressed concern about the performance of two students — one expected to do extremely well and another who consistently performed below average and was not expected to pass. When the results were published the usually poor-performing student was awarded a grade one, while the high achiever got a lower grade.

“It jumps out because this is the complaint all around and it’s not just this one case,” the teacher stated.

“We feel that the papers are not being marked properly because we are the ones who teach the students. We know what they are capable of, and students who are getting grades one and two we know — based on what we have seen with them for the last two years — that there is no way that they can get that grade,” an English instructor at the Corporate Area school added.

“A student at our school who can barely read got a grade two in English Language,” another English teacher from a rural high school told the Jamaica Observer. “Even students who failed the City & Guilds exam were passing CXC English.

“How can that happen?” he questioned. “The City & Guilds exam is usually for the slow students.”

The UK-based examination is dedicated to vocational studies and is aimed at recognising different types of learners. It provides certification for students who need an option as opposed to the CSEC exam.

Assistant Registrar, Public Information and Customer Services at the CXC Cleveland Sam, in a written response to the Sunday Observer noted that while there is no general pattern, candidates sometimes “exceed their teachers’ expectations” while others do not do as well as projected.

What is e-marking?

E-marking, which was first employed in 2013, facilitates the marking of scripts in an online environment rather than a physical location.

In its first year, there was over 90 per cent correlation between scripts marked electronically and manually, when compared.

The assistant registrar, in explaining the system’s stages, said the scripts are first scanned and separated by questions, then individual questions are assigned to markers. The scripts are then marked using random seeding to uphold quality standards, and finally samples of scripts at grade boundaries are reviewed to ensure cut scores are maintained each year.

Prior to e-marking, the CXC would conduct what was termed table marking, wherein papers would be marked manually in marking centres across the territory.

The chief markers, as explained by the English HOD, would be flown to a location to meet and determine the acceptable answers and mark schemes. These individuals would then return to their territories and train table leaders — who would be responsible for up to six markers — using the established scheme from the previous island.

“We would come up with other things in that training process and then the markers would come in. When they came in we went through the process again and we would add and subtract, it would be an argument, for want of a better word, in an attempt to come to the best mark scheme and then the marking would begin,” the teacher explained.

Recounting an instance where papers had to be recalled and re-marked following the re-evaluation of an answer that was initially considered incorrect, the teacher noted that table marking facilitated ease of communication.

Comparatively, the Corporate Area English teacher asserted that e-marking limits the accepted answers to the CXC’s prescribed responses and lacks effective communication.

“I know there is room for giving feedback, voicing your concerns and having the chief respond to you, but in terms of changing the seed (prescribed answers), now that is not done,” the tutor said. “What happens now is that if you keep marking away from the seed you’re gonna be thrown off or you get bumped out of the system, and you can’t continue marking until you are re-added by your supervisor.”

The current system uses a method called seeding, whereby for every few scripts seeds (pre-marked papers) and presented randomly to the marker as unmarked scripts. Each seed has a prescribed total and if the marker’s total does not match, the marker is stopped.

The marker is bumped from the system after three “errors”.

The English Department head believes this causes markers “to adhere to the mark scheme slavishly” instead of fairly considering a candidate’s response.

But CXC, in debunking the teacher’s claim, maintained that e-marking improves the quality of marking through consistent seeding — a more effective method to sampling done in the past.

“More robust controls are applied earlier since the marks are immediately available for analysis. In the past, the marks were captured via data entry process that was several days behind marking as well as had the potential to introduce errors due to wrong keying,” Sam’s response stated.

“It allows for wider participation, since CXC was unable to fly persons from all territories and sought to use more markers where the centres were located. Now, markers from all territories have equal opportunity to mark. [Additionally] marking can be started earlier, since teachers are not removed from classroom,” he added.

According to the CXC, e-marking is also beneficial as is it insulates the marking process from the escalating cost of travel and accommodation; and reduces/eliminates the manual operations around marking, scoring and grading.

“CXC believes that the papers are being marked properly given the multiple layers of quality assurance,” the response read.

The outlined multiple layers listed were the fact that potential markers are pre-qualified; a standardisation process is used to ensure specifications are met before going live; random seeding at 10 to 20 per cent is done to maintain marking quality; distribution of marks by measurement officers is reviewed; and sampling of marked responses at grade boundaries to ensure year on year standards is carried out.

Grades issued before marking

The educators also expressed concern that grades were released before all the scripts were marked.

The department said that in one instance, the day before the results were released, “thousands of scripts” were not yet marked.

“I thought it lacked integrity because I don’t understand how it is that, overnight, these unmarked scripts got marked,” she told the Sunday Observer.

She claimed that up to a week before results were released this year, the organisation was still sending e-mails to recruit markers.

“They were asking for markers for English Language, English Literature, Mathematics etc. They were asking for markers in these subject areas but the wording suggested to me that you don’t have to be a specialist in the area,” she said.

But the CXC, while denying the amount, said results have been published before all scripts papers were marked.

“There are cases of papers not being marked up to the release of results. This is what is referred to as ‘mop-up’ marking, but it’s not usually ‘thousands’. We have had mop-up marking since the implementation of e-marking,” Sam responded.

Regarding recruitment, he explained that non-teachers are eligible to mark scripts once they are able to pass pre-qualification and are marking to the specified standard.

He said that upon recruitment, individuals are taken through a process of pre-qualification wherein their certification is verified before they are permitted to mark scripts.

“Once this has been completed, they are taken through training on the marking tool, then standardisation on the question he/she is assigned to mark,” Sam stated. “The standardisation process involves the understanding of the marking instructions, then marking up to 40 items to ensure they are marking to the chief examiner’s specification. If within tolerance, they move on to live marking, otherwise, they are suspended.”

Unattractive remuneration

Pointing out that most teachers marked because “it was good money” and the experience in marking aided teaching the syllabus, one teacher argued that marking is no longer worth it.

“At the end of the day, sitting down for seven hours for five days in a week to mark hundreds of scripts…of course you expect that you are going to be paid and the pay is good,” she reasoned. “[But] when they started the online marking they changed the pay system and you were paid per script, but the money was quoted in Bajan (Barbadian) dollars and questions are weighted differently.”

Instead of having a flat rate, she noted that an individual marking an essay question would, for example, receive roughly BBD$1.58 (J$100.65) per script, while an individual marking comprehension would receive BBD$0.56 ($35.67) per paper.

“So when you do the conversion and you work it out, if you mark say 1500 scripts you don’t even make close to the $80,000 that you used to make, especially if you are marking comprehension,” she disclosed. “And you’re using your time, your Internet, your electricity…because all they do is provide the software that you load on to your personal computer and you sit, on your time, and do it.”

However, CXC argued that the new payment plan is to ensure that persons were rewarded based on their level of work.

“With the flat rate everyone got the same reward regardless of the volume marked or the quality of their work,” the response noted.

“The new system seeks to reward those who complete more scripts with more pay. Those who are not able to maintain the standard are suspended and hence receive lower pay. We have also examined the effort on questions and have categorised them accordingly. As such, an average hour of effort should result in the same level of payment, even though the number of scripts marked may differ,” it continued.

Ripple effect

The teachers expressed concern for the possible implications these issues may have on the region’s credibility in education.

“CXC is the benchmark for the territory and when you are giving grades to children who are not competent, when they move away from here — whether they go to university here or abroad — it is going to show up that they are not competent, and then the entire education system is going to be blamed,” the English teacher reasoned.

“The problem does not stem from what the teachers are doing, [but] what the exam is prescribing. That is why a lot of the teachers at the university level have a problem with the way that the students write, because they are coming to the universities with the grade ones from CSEC but at the same time they are not able to construct a proper persuasive essay or a proper expository essay.”

“They are not competent!” the English HOD stressed.

The educators argued that it is neither fair to the students nor the education system, as the incompetence is detrimental to both and the region’s reputation.

“It is so unfair if a child prepares and was expecting to do well and that does not happen; then children who were not performing do well and come and say ‘Miss look how you nuh believe in me an me get one’ and you as a teacher know they are not competent.”

The solution

The barrage of issues have frustrated the teachers who, like others, have opted out of marking scripts.

The CXC reported a shortage of markers for animation, digital media, and fin services — relatively new subjects. However, with what the examining committee referred to as the “small” number of entries, it was not beyond the capacity of the committee to complete marking.

“The veteran teachers are pulling out because the marking tool is not interactive nor user-friendly; it is too inflexible and not worth the pressure,” the teacher at the rural school disclosed.

While noting that the previous method was costly, the department head suggested that e-marking be employed when reviewing arithmetic subjects.

“CXC has decided to go ahead with this electronic marking and I think it can work for some subjects like numerical subjects where one plus one equals two, but with regards to others which require discussion, like the reading subjects, no,” she said.

Noting that the previous system encouraged regional integration, she suggested that the examining committee allow markers to gather at marking centres within their territories to mark, as opposed to travelling across the region.

Over 95 per cent of all components were marked electronically this year.

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25 Comments on “Concerns About CXC Grading”

  1. ConcreteRoads November 3, 2017 at 1:17 AM #

    Another Legal Blow for ‘the Speaker’

    Speaker of the House of Assembly of Barbados, Michael Carrington, QC, MP, appears to be preparing for court a second time around as the member of parliament is at the centre of another legal dispute.

    Based on forthcoming information, it appears that the MP did not have a handle on the matter, involving a recent sale of property belonging to Ajax Properties Limited, the plaintiff.

    Read more when you download the digital PDF.


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Crusoe November 3, 2017 at 4:11 AM #

    quoting the article ”But the CXC, while denying the amount, said results have been published before all scripts papers were marked>

    Are they completely mad? Issuing a grade, on unmarked papers, how in any realm of logic is that fair to the student or other students?

    ‘mop up’ marking they call it?

    Or shoddy work by CXC to deliver ‘results’ amidst bad management and operational implementation?

    So when you hear a rumor that Harrison College objected to results in a specific subject at CAPE, as no one would have got a scholarship in 2018 since all grade ones are needed, and everyone got a revised upward grade , not a few, but everyone, you wonder if there is any integrity in the system. And if it was because the school was Harrison College that the grades were revised.

    But come on, everyone in the year doing that subject got the revised grade?????

    Add to that, SBA’s that teachers from the schools mark and those marks are taken as gospel by CXC. So, how does anyone check that the marking standard across schools are equivalent, or across countries? Or that teachers favorites do not get special treatment. Those marks account for 20% of a result.


  3. Crusoe November 3, 2017 at 4:15 AM #

    One more point and a possible explanation of ‘errant marks’ as described in the article.

    What integrity is there in the transfer of paper scans to candidate numbers?

    Errors there could explain results that are from what teachers expect. Could students be assigned the wrong script / answers per questions?


  4. David November 3, 2017 at 5:50 AM #


    This is a very important concern but of course it will be drowned in the noise of the silly season.


  5. Ping Pong November 3, 2017 at 6:53 AM #

    @ Crusoe
    Every HC student received an upgrade in CAPE Communication Studies. There were changes in the Economics grades as well. The problem is that CXC hires some (many) markers who either are not active teachers or are not familiar with the material being examined or are incompetent.

    The sad reality is that if teachers had their way, many would return to Cambridge examinations.

    Maybe when Barbados get a better functioning judiciary, parents will be able to hold CXC and the Ministry of Education to account.


  6. David November 3, 2017 at 7:31 AM #

    Instead we prefer to blame Redman and the BSTU.



  7. Bush Tea November 3, 2017 at 7:51 AM #

    As Bushie has ALWAYS said….
    CXC has been an example of total and complete shiite from the very beginning….

    If you start with shiite, there is only one way it will all end.
    All that was ever needed was a big fan….

    Close the damn idiocy down, and pay Cambridge or some world-class examining body to grade the damn exams…

    A most SIMPLE solution – and it saves MILLIONS of dollars per year.

    ….minding Arthur and enuff with their CSME shiite…..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Georgie Porgie November 3, 2017 at 8:48 AM #

    Clearly the teacher who wrote this well articulated piece knows what they are talking about.

    It should be very interesting too see the bovine excrement posted on this thread in response by those who dont have a clue or who dont understand what is written.

    What is very obvious is that the root of the matter is that CXC has gone the route of costing and are paying the price for their folly.


  9. de pedantic Dribbler November 3, 2017 at 9:41 AM #

    Mr BushTea, let’s give credence to part of your screed…I like the fact of your thrust that garbage in will always equal garbage out.

    However, it is incredulous that Mr Albino-centric wants to kowtow to the albinos in that way and outsource rather than work studiously to fix. You are obviously selective in your focus based on your dislike of the CSME.

    Anyhow,, Mr Blogmaster the issues raised here re CXC are surely seriously but as you highlighted with the Alma Parris matter, education in general is given an improper examination.

    Those kids from that school who are now thrust into the ‘normative’ environments in St.George’s, St. Lucy’s, Parkinson’s n other secondary schools are like some of those noted in the piece: they will stand not a chance of passing English…

    That type of granular issue is part of the serious cracks that we seem unable to fix with any concrete solution.

    How do we address the real societal matter of those of us who have challenges which are then made worst by poor parenting, drug use, the opiate of pervasive sexual stimulation and capped with ineffective schooling.

    So Mr BushTea are you going to out source the education of our Alma Parris cohorts to Cambridge n Oxford too or what’s your recommendation!


  10. Bush Tea November 3, 2017 at 10:02 AM #

    Look Dribbles…
    Wisdom is an elusive concept.

    If the objective of our education system is to produce children who can be competitive in an ESTABLISHED albino centric environment, THEN the way to judge success is by measuring the children’s ability to compete in an albino-centric world.

    It makes no sense to have albino-centric aspirations – and then create you OWN shiite CXC measures that makes everyone look good ..when there are mostly piss poor shite hounds by global albino centric standards.

    Of course there is also THE correct concept of education…. something that ELUDES brass bowls.
    The ALTERNATIVE approach (Bushie’s if he was running things) would be to CREATE a COMMUNITY-CENTRIC reality which suits our people’s natural predispositions, and set our OWN damn standards for performance and our own MEASURES for success.
    But one would need to be smart, wise, innovative, connected (with BBE), and BRAVE to even grasp such an approach.

    ..Bushie is getting a little tired of your ‘slowness’ ..and inability to follow complex logic skippa..
    Check with PLT …. a genuinely bright spark.


  11. Georgie Porgie November 3, 2017 at 11:28 AM #

    In the 60’s when we took our O levels and A levels under the auspices of Oxford & Cambridge, the results reflected what was expected by our teachers, our peers and our selves.

    In the early 70″s when we switched to exams marked by Cambridge whether for O levels or A levels the results reflected what was expected by our teachers, our peers and our selves.

    It therefore ought to be of great concern that there are such glaring anomalies in the grades now produced by CXE.

    It is very certain that A students get A’s and that poor students fail or get low grades.So when seasoned teachers are expressing such dismay about unexpected grades of their charges, we must be concerned.

    I can see no reason why we should not return to the proper or consistent marking of exams by Cambridge or similar overseas examiners, because obviously CXE is not doing a competent job.


  12. Georgie Porgie November 3, 2017 at 11:35 AM #

    As an aside, I listened to the funeral of Sir Clifford Husbands on CBC radio and was appalled by the most unbalanced singing of the combined choirs of two Parish churches. No basses, it seems were present as I did not hear them, and the altos and tenors were loud.
    It seems that every thing is going to pot


  13. David November 3, 2017 at 12:38 PM #

    Note BU posted this article at a time when many prefer to discuss LEC. Education is a priority matter.


  14. Hal Austin November 3, 2017 at 12:54 PM #

    If we are going to invest in education, why not create elite institutions, based on ability and talent rather than parental connections, and let our best students compete with the rest of the world by taking the International Baccalaureate and International GCSE, along with PISA, the programme for international student assessment?
    This is where our minister of education has failed – creating a series of sixth forms, rather than sixth form colleges; failing to assess the failure of the majority of our secondary schools; failing to assess why some schools do relatively well and others badly; and failing to professionalise our teaching, by making it a post-graduate profession, with continuing professional development programmes.


  15. Georgie Porgie November 3, 2017 at 1:32 PM #

    Whereas there is need to invest in education, why not create elite institutions, based on ability and talent and whereas moron Jones is attempting to reinvent the wheel by creating a series of sixth forms when the BCC was established in 69 as a necessary sixth form college, can we stick to discussion of the failures and folly of CXE and suggest solutions to ameliorate the the functioning of CXC and the contemporary chaos it is experiencing?


  16. Simple Simon November 3, 2017 at 1:45 PM #

    @de pedantic Dribbler November 3, 2017 at 9:41 AM “That type of granular issue is part of the serious cracks that we seem unable to fix with any concrete solution.”

    Can you please explain to me in English, what this sentence means. Thanks.


  17. Simple Simon November 3, 2017 at 1:50 PM #

    @Georgie Porgie November 3, 2017 at 11:28 AM “In the 60’s when we took our O levels and A levels under the auspices of Oxford & Cambridge, the results reflected what was expected by our teachers, our peers and our selves. In the early 70″s when we switched to exams marked by Cambridge whether for O levels or A levels the results reflected what was expected by our teachers, our peers and our selves.”

    Are you sure that you are not looking back at the past with rose coloured glasses?


  18. Hants November 3, 2017 at 2:00 PM #

    Some Bajans who wasted their time at secondary school had to do this or similar.

    The Academic and Career Entrance (ACE) program is offered to students who have not completed a High School Diploma or Ontario Secondary School Diploma. Students completing four ACE courses obtain the ACE certificate, which is a High School Diploma equivalent for those interested in pursuing apprenticeships, employment or post-secondary program entry.


  19. Observing November 3, 2017 at 9:35 PM #

    “Education is a priority matter.”



  20. de pedantic Dribbler November 4, 2017 at 3:04 AM #

    Surely, you jest @Simple.


  21. Crusoe November 4, 2017 at 6:02 AM #

    Aside from still being confounded by the alleged admission above, that some grades are awarded in ‘mop up marking’, a form of grade allocation without script review, something else is just as profound.

    As someone noted above, the underlying reason is cost.

    But what it really is, is an acceptance of mediocrity, in assessing papers. Willing to cut corners and costs, to get the product out into the market, at a price in qualiy they deem to be ‘acceptable’. A product that is far less than excellent, even if they argue that it is satisfactory, though I do not see how.

    This, from the main examining body in the region. The one awarded the task of assessing the performance of students region wide.



  22. Bush Tea November 4, 2017 at 8:56 AM #

    @ Crusoe
    ‘Ironic’ is an understatement of humongous proportions.
    It is a lotta shiite.

    Of course, you MUST know of the other side of this coin…. where selected teachers looked forward to their annual, paid, summer- get-a-way to various Caribbean destinations to frolic …and to correct these papers….at Government’s cost.

    It has apparently finally dawned on authorities that this is an unsustainable luxury – or perhaps too many relationships have gone sour…..

    Some teachers may feel hard done by…..


  23. Ping Pong November 4, 2017 at 10:52 AM #


    Your 6:02 am post so accurately and succinctly summarises the issue of CXC’s assessment of scripts that I wish every Minister of Education and Chief Education Officer of participating CARICOM countries would read it and demand improvement from CXC.


  24. David November 6, 2017 at 7:05 AM #

    BCC told to become accredited!


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