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New system of school evaluation in Cuba
"Everybody passes, even those who havent learned anything. They take exams over and over, and always get a six - the lowest passing grade. They can barely make it."

High school students Anie Peña and Alejandro Bebert, from Cubas Camagüey Province, feel that something isnt going well in the classrooms when speaking about the persistent inadequate grading of students, despite changes in high school teaching that is aimed at a more comprehensive education.

While some parents appreciate that their children dont have to take final exams, others think that the daily questioning method being implemented is simplistic.

The new system adopted in high school education has raised controversy around educational quality. Some think that having two generalist teachers in a classroom with thirty students "one per fifteen" is an advantage. Others yearn for those times when each subject was taught by a specialized teacher.

The new high school evaluation method appears in the Resolution 226, 2003 of the Ministry of Education. It clearly states that the knowledge measuring process has to have feedback. It is a system that works with the adolescent, requires a proper diagnosis and an appropriate teaching strategy.

During a journalistic inquiry at schools of Havana, Camagüey and Cienfuegos, high school students spoke about the assimilation of information.

"The truth is that not all of us understand the same or enough with this formula; although at the end it doesnt really matter because all of us are always going to pass," some students said.

The new methods must guarantee a systematic and comprehensive assessment of the student from oral and written evaluations and assignments which foster the search for information without the teachers help.

A poll among a hundred parents of high school students from the abovementioned provinces showed that even though most of parents have weighed the benefits, some think it is risky that student assessment depends mainly on the teachers training and ethical and pedagogical vocation.

Teacher Benito S. Chávez, from Cienfuegos, who works in a university and has a son in the ninth grade, defends the current pedagogical model adopted in high schools because it "increases students self-learning, their independence and individual study."

"It is good," he said, "but it demands very good training of the teaching staff, something that not always happens, nor do they always have the experience to fully implement it. It involves a change in the mentality of both the students and the teachers.

"Likewise, it demands a level of high concentration on the part of students, something theyre not used to. Theyre before an unprecedented learning process, which will be effective to the degree that it is consolidated by the teachers and students," said the instructor.

Benito said he was against repeating the same question over and over again until the student knows the answer. "There are different learning levels. Students must move from the reproductive to the productive and from there to the creative one," he said.

"Teachers have to rephrase the question for the students to assimilate assignment levels depending on their objective. It is not about repeating the same thing, but about finding other ways for students to internalize knowledge," he added.

<strong>Thestrong> <strong>hiddenstrong> <strong>sidestrong> <strong>ofstrong> <strong>astrong> <strong>resolutionstrong>

The results of the poll carried out by this newspaper in the three provinces showed that the new evaluation method has created expectations of always passing exams, which is now adding to family paternalism and grade inflation - a phenomenon that hindered Cubas educational system in the past.

Odalis Rodríguez, comprehensive-general teacher (PGI) with more than 20 years of experience, explained that "Resolution 226 brings about teachers and students participation, both individually and collectively, in making decisions about students qualitative and quantitative evaluation criteria."

She said that the system has a permanent and systematic character. "Students are assessed within their educational component through the observation of their performance inside the classroom, written evaluative questions, reviews of their notebooks, assignments and other work."

"Then, the system does not have weakness?

"Resolution 226 was designed so that no student fails. If students go to school and receive the lessons, they must learn and pass to the next grade. These are three main elements of the resolution: attending, learning and passing.

"Do these elements guarantee that students always learn?

"We have succeeded in having students busy inside the classroom being taught a subject, acquiring habits and skills; we even take them out of the street, but this doesnt really mean that they always learn.

"The resolution has been effective in achieving many objectives, but it has also given space again to certain expectations of always passing, family paternalism and grade inflation, even with those students who have low IQs and need special attention."

This opinion was shared by other teachers, including PGI Gladis Sarmiento, from Camagüey, who said, "We have to pay attention to the variety of students and this doesnt always works. We have students with serious learning difficulties and a slower appropriation for knowledge than the rest."

<strong>Opinionsstrong> <strong>encounteredstrong>

Our survey also showed that the implementation of partial and intra-semester quizzes "which assess a period, give general results and prepare students to face future exams" needs to be re-considered.

Magalys Chaviano, journalist and mother of seventh-grade student, from Cienfuegos, thinks that repeating the same question to the child so that they know the answers very well is not oversimplification. "On the contrary, it is a teaching method by repetition," she said.

PGI Ismaray Isaac, from Havana, agrees with her and said that by periodically assessing his students, he makes them study everyday.

"It would be harder for them with a final test because they would have to study the whole content. It is also better for us because we can soon realize what student knows the content very well, if students have difficulties to express themselves or whether what they know from other grades is sufficient or not. We can base our daily work on that."

PGI Gladis Sarmiento, from Camagüey, said that it has been proved that this new method is not enough, although she recognized its virtues.

"It is necessary to implement partial and intra-semester tests again. Both the students trajectory and their test results can go together to the final scale and show the childrens real knowledge."

Random interviews with parents and students dealt with the thorny topic of the training of the PGI. "They lack professionalism. Those with teaching experience resist, but how many young teachers have quit their jobs because they can stand it?" said Mario, father of two children who are studying in high school.

Another mother, Migdalia Socarrás, said that "there are people who are very good at sciences but not at the arts, and thats one of their main problems. Thats the reason why teachers who teach TV lessons are specialists on a subject."

Pedagogue Aracelis Campanioni added an interesting element. "Sometimes, primary school teachers do not do a correct pedagogic work. Then, children arrive in high school with problems, which demand a special attention that cannot be given by the PGI."

<strong>Astrong> <strong>principalsstrong> <strong>confessionsstrong>

The majority of participants in the JRs poll said that the most worrying element is that the new evaluation system relies essentially on the teachers training.

Most of teachers at the José Luis Arruñada High School, in Havana, are very young. According to its principal, Osvel Gómez, they still need more training to teach several subjects, which slows down the students learning and influences the quality and extent of evaluation processes.

"PGIs are the taught methodology and they have the support of teachers with greater experience. But it is a slow process. When the work with them becomes systematic, we will be able to achieve a little bit more than what we have now."

"There are students who say that it is difficult to pay attention to TV lessons.

"Each video lasts for 35 minutes. The rest of the lessons time is for the teacher to reinforce the knowledge students did not understand, or could not finish copying while the video was being played. Teachers have to have prepared themselves beforehand, to have watched the video-lesson; they cannot improvise in the classroom.

"But some teachers say they dont have time to watch them before the class...

"It is true, time is very short for teachers and they have many responsibilities.

"Practical classes do not exist any more...

"Before, practical classes were live, now they are watched on TV or with educational software. There may be some live experiments, according to the resources of the school and the teacher.

"Years ago, we had one specialist for each subject. Currently, there is a PGI for all of them and it could happen that, for instance, that teacher is good at Spanish, but not at chemistry, and doesn't know how to carry out an experiment. With this method, we have won some things and lost others."

<strong>Allstrong> <strong>forstrong> <strong>onestrong>... <strong>onestrong> <strong>forstrong> <strong>allstrong>?

Assignments are another way of measuring the students learning. In the high schools we visited, students said that all subjects have this type homework, but that many times they have to do all of them at the same time, and this is when the problems begin.

"If is a team work, we help each other and no one fails. The teacher gives us different marks according to each students presentation. There are students who get six or seven, but if you want to get ten points you have to really defend your work. Each student does what they can: some give the paper; others the cover... and the result is excellent.

"But it is a problem if it is individual. Its like a contest for the cutest work. There are even some parents who pay other people to print them. Luckily, some are asked to be hand-written," added many who were polled.

Several students from Camagüey criticized that practice by some parents. "The sad part is that there are teachers are who only look at the presentation of the paper," they said angrily.

Generally, students think that assignments establish a substantial variation from primary school, where the final exams system rules; that makes them feel more mature and responsible.

However, there are some who do not agree with this formula, especially the more intelligent ones, who would feel more secure before the challenge of a final test; this would establish cognitive hierarchies and place them at the top of the scale.

Students main complaint about assignments is that they favor those students who do less work or are less intelligent - those who actually make no contribution to those tasks.

Armando Sáez, a student from the Luis Pérez Lozano School, in the Pastorita neighborhood of Cienfuegos, explains, "A 30-students class is divided in two groups of 15 for some assignments. But actually only one or two work on the assignment."

"Then, when the assignment is presented, if it is, if it meets all the requirements and gets the top mark, everybody gets the same mark - the one who worked hard on the assignment and the one that just put their name on the list."

An eighth grade student from the Juan Olaiz School, in La Juanita neighborhood, also in Cienfuegos, voiced a concern that was present in the research conducted by Juventud Rebelde newspaper: "Something really sad is taking place. Some teachers give better marks to the students who bring them a soft drink or a snack than to those who did it or presented it - even when they know they did nothing on the assignment."

Magalys Chaviano, a mother from Cienfuegos, says: "Smart kids, those who like to look for information and analyze it, assimilate more with this method. They are more independent, and develop skills by themselves because this evaluation method stimulates them to do research."

"The student does not have to work on spelling or writing skills. I think it should be demanded that the assignment must be handwritten. It has reached a point in which teachers consider handwriting a lack of interest of the child, and not as an added value that the kid, and no somebody else, did the work."

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Another growing phenomenon seen in the newspaper survey was family paternalism.

For Miklay, "helping is not committing fraud. It depends on what the parent understands by 'helping, which is not doing the assignment for their child, but giving them guidance. Family is this case suppresses the childs learning."

But sometimes the help parents give their children can bring about situations like the one described by Doraisy Cutiño, General Comprehensive Teacher from the Noel Fernández School, in Camagüey: "A few months ago, a mother 'helped her son so much that the kid got six points in the presentation of the assignment. She protested that mark, saying that she had virtually done the assignment by herself. We had to show what her mistake was and she left ashamed. But, do all those teachers act the same?"

Teacher Oslery Barrios, from Havana, says that his students can receive a score of six to seven for doing their assignment. The rest is earned in the presentation. "It makes them study, because a classmate can do the assignment, but if they want the top mark, they know they have to be ready."

On this aspect, Natividad Ramos, a leading teacher at the Noel Fernández School and with 32 years of experience, said: "The teacher plays the main role, he or she is the one that should stop fraudulent situations from taking place. Sometimes the family has mistaken their role, turning help into fraud."

"I think," General Comprehensive Teacher Gladis Sarmiento said, "that although parents are more committed to their children because they must study everyday; a door has been opened to fraud, false comradeship and a race to see who makes the prettiest assignment."

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Secondary school education has undergone the most radical and deep change in education in the last few years. This is maintained by Berta Fernández, deputy minister of Education, who says that in the middle of all these transformations are the General Comprehensive Teachers (called PGI after its abbreviation in Spanish). The success of this model largely depends on their actions.

Concerning the evaluation system, Fernández said this is a complex element in any methodology. Resolution 226/2003 was established to rule this system. This resolution states that a teacher with 15 students can provide a more personalized attention to them.

"Theoretically speaking, a PGI must go with their students from the seventh to the ninth grade. It not always happens that way. This is a process and we are still in the fifth year of transformations."

"The evaluation must be comprehensive. We say we have to prepare the student for life and life does not come in pieces, it is a whole. If a question mixes geography with history, Im blending contents."

"What are the advantages and disadvantages of the new evaluation system?

"It is more systematic and comprehensive. It is permanent and, by concept, students should be evaluated every day, but it does not mean that it has to be on the same subject.

"A student can have as many evaluations as they need. Maybe in a month one has 12 and 15 in another. Our aspiration is that the student passes the objective of the course, but not all students make it at the same time."

"Do all secondary school students pass today? No. Do some of them have to repeat the year? Yes. Has the number of students who repeat the year decreased? Yes. The system will be efficient the day all the students learn with quality, and therefore pass. It is a wish, but currently its not like that."

"Why is it still a wish today?

"In our visits to the schools, we have seen that not everything stated in the Resolution is done. There are more than 35,000 PGIs in secondary schools at the front of a class, and not all of them apply the resolution with the efficiency it requires, because they do not interpret it the same way.

"First thing that has to be improved is the general diagnosis of the student, which is key to designing the evaluation system. I have to know what the student knows and what they dont, how they live, who they live with, how their health is. Those elements have an influence on the learning process."

"It must be a systematic valuation. When one looks into the teachers records and sees that their students have the same number of evaluations, it is because there was no individualization, and because each student requires a number of questions according to the objective they have not overcome."

"All the evaluation approaches are not developed either. There is a predominance of oral and written questions, while the comprehensive seminar, notebook checking and comprehensive homework are used less."

"Resolution 226 speaks of experimental work and there are people who ask: So wheres the lab? But if I ask a student to wash the rice they way their mother washes it before cooking it, they are observing the process of separation of the materials known as decanting. Thats experimental home work. Life is full of phenomena where the laws of nature take action, but it is underemployed."

"The teacher should evaluate also the educational aspect such as attendance, attitude towards study, discipline, correct use of the uniform, the participation in patriotic activities, the care of social property and environment."

"Written tests have not been fully eliminated. In fact, the principal of the school can determine to make them based on their judgment of the groups and can determine their frequency."

"A large number of students and parents see assignments as a new way of committing fraud.

"The teacher sometimes accommodates to collecting the assignments without demanding the presentation, which is not compulsory. The assignment must be handwritten to measure spelling, grammar and handwriting. Thats how we are demanding it now.

"If I have 15 students, I know the way they all act. If I have doubts that one of them did not take part in the doing an assignment, I can give them another pop quiz. I can even assign work to be done by various students or individually."

"There are several opinions as to the classes on TV and video

"A PGI can teach all the subjects because they count on those devices, in addition to the educational software. It has to be added that right now more video-classes are being prepared (the ones used now are five years old), to update them with new elements from science and technology and to relate them to educational software.

"Not everything is being done well," said deputy minister Fernandez. There are ways for young teachers to improve their evaluation methods. "There is a new subject in their training in which they learn how to work with the normative documents in Secondary School."

"This new initiative adds to the fact that in the second year of their major, the PGI has a tutor that teaches them how to apply this in the practice, besides the responsibility of the chief of grade and the schools principal with them."

Concerning the idea that a number of people have that the new evaluation system is designed so that all the students pass, Fernández explained. "If it is done well, all the students should overcome the objectives. Maybe they will not overcome them with the same level, because they all have different aptitudes. The success of the teacher will be to take their 15 students to the top of their potential."

"Resolution 226 has contents that must be evaluated in every subject. If a student masters that grade it is because they have read the course textbooks. One of the difficulties we see is that not all of the objectives are being measured."

"There is a tendency to learn more, but we havent reached the four times more we intended to. In Math, for example, it has grown 1.8 times more."

"To give a differentiate treatment for a student does not mean to repeat them something too many times, but to have mastered the contents they don't not know very well, and to be able, with alternate methods, make them grasp those contents. How many questions do I need for that? It depends on the student. It does not have to be questions; it can be other activities, too."

"Before, there were two control works and a final exam. But it was no guarantee that there would be no fraud. There were teachers that days before the text used to give a 'review that included all the questions on the test."

"The teacher is the key element. This system means more work for everybody. Ive seen experienced teachers who applied the method well and others that applied it poorly, because the old model is still present in the way they apply it."

"The same happens with young teachers. Some 47 percent of our labor force is in training. We have to teach them. Usually, when you visit the class of one who is in the fourth or the fifth year of the major, you can observe working conditions that are different from those who are in the first or second year, those who have more problems. Thats real. There are some who do it very well, but that is not a rule."


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