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Testing in Belize Educational System and External Examinations Print E-mail
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Written by Betty Jean Usher-Tate   
Thursday, 16 August 2012 00:00


Secondary education began with Wesley High School in 1882 operated by the Methodist Mission (Bennett, 2008).  By 1900, there were five high schools in the country; all managed by the religious denominations with little or no support from the government. Unlike primary schools that were tuition-free, secondary education required a financial investment for tuition, fees, textbooks, school supplies, and uniforms. According to Bennett (2008), the only contribution made to these schools in the early 1900s was an incentive bonus to the teacher or school for each student who passed the Cambridge Local Examinations.

Partly as validation of the quality of education received in Belize, students were encouraged to sit external examinations. Nevertheless, success in these examinations translated into scholarship opportunities, university admissions, and employment benefits (increased salaries). External examinations that were advocated included but were not limited to the Cambridge Local Examinations, General Certificate Examinations, Royal Society of Arts Examinations, and the City and Guilds. 

Geographically, Belize is both Caribbean and Central American. Historically, Belize identifies more with the English speaking Caribbean. In 1972 ,the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) was established with Belize as one of its 16 participating territories (CXC, 2012).  British made exams were gradually replaced with subject specific tests prepared by the CXC: Caribbean Secondary Examinations (CSEC) for high school level and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exams (CAPE) for the tertiary/junior-college level. There are fees associated with each CXC test. In Belize, even though 25% of the nation’s budget is spent on Education (Faber, 2011), students bear the full cost for the number of CXCs they take.

National Examinations
There are three major national examinations: one for secondary and two for primary school. The primary school exams are government sponsored (no cost to students).

Twelfth grade. The Association of Tertiary Level Institutions in Belize (ATLIB) prepares an exam which is intended for high school seniors applying for admission to tertiary level institutions (sixth forms/junior-colleges) within Belize. It is administered simultaneously across the nation once per year. Like the CXCs, students pay to sit this exam.

Sixth grade. The Belize Junior Achievement Test (BJAT) intended for all students in sixth grade. It is not offered simultaneously. BJAT is designed to inform and bears minimal negative consequences; it is low stakes.

Eighth grade. The Primary School Examinations (PSE) is also a paper-based exam. Items are based on the contents outlined in the national primary school curriculum. The four constructs that are covered are as follows: English language competence, math competence, science competence, and social studies competence. Each of the four content competencies is worth 100 points. The English language competence score is derived from three subtests (letter writing 20; composition 30; and comprehensive multiple choice items, 50). The math competence score is derived from two subtests measuring math ability (multiple choice format, 50 and student-generated responses, 50). The science and social studies are stand-alone tests with multiple choice formats. 

PSE is administered in two days (about 4 weeks apart). High school facilities are used as testing centers and high school teachers invigilate  the examinations under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. To date, there have been very few instances of test-accommodations. The PSE is a high stakes test because one’s composite score (averaged competencies) has direct impact on high school selection and admission. Some scholarship awards are also dependent on PSE scores.

To date, published analyses of PSE results have been limited to descriptive statistics. Because the PSE carries such high stakes, validity of scores is very important. Invariance testing using structural equation modeling (SEM) techniques allows researchers to simultaneously estimate relationships among multiple variables for different groups such as gender and ethnicity (Motl et al., 2002).  Structural equivalence or invariance concerns whether the theoretical structure of the instrument is the same for members of different groups (Byrne & Watkins, 2003).

In an unpublished SEM term paper, Usher-Tate and Anderson (2012) used scores from the English language and math competence subtests of the 2010 PSE to conduct measurement invariance tests. There were 6,525 students represented in the dataset. For gender, the model tested operated the same for boys and girls. However, significant differences/variances were observed across language and school location categories, indicating a need for further investigation. On the other hand, Catholic-managed institutions accounted for approximately half of the sample, but invariance testing showed insignificant difference. This indicates that whether the church-state partnership was Catholic or non-Catholic, it made little difference in student achievement on the 2010 PSE English and math.  Future research could be even more meaningful with analyses using item level datasets.

Reference
Bennett, J.A. (2008). Education in Belize: A Historical Perspective. Belize City: The Angelus Press Ltd.
Byrne, B. M. & Watkins, D. (2003). The issue of measurement invariance revisited. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 34(2), 155-175.
Faber, P. (2011). Education week address 2011 by Hon. Patrick Faber part 1. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCBQvdGv2-M
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  1invigilate (UK & Caribbean)  – to supervise or watch over candidates in an exam especially to prevent or detect cheating and adhere to standard operations; to proctor (USA)
CXC. (2012). About the council. [the official website]. Retrieved from http://www.cxc.org/about-us/about-council
Motl, R. W., Dishman, R. K., Ward, D. S., Saunders, R. P., Dowda, M., Felton, G., & Pate, R. R. (2002). Examining social-cognitive determinants of intention and physical activity among black and white adolescent girls using structural equation modeling.  Health Psychology, 21(5), 459-467.
Usher-Tate, B. & Anderson, N. (2012). Invariance testing on the Belizean primary school exam 2010.  [unpublished term paper].University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 August 2012 14:15