Column: Ben Smith On Education, Assessments

April 20, 2021

[Opinion column written by OBA Senate Leader Ben Smith]

It has been announced that a major decision in education has been made to not have students sit the checkpoint assessments. Several factors were considered in making this decision, and that means for the second year running these assessments will not take place in Bermuda.

The current Covid-19 situation in Bermuda has put us in a position that makes this kind of decision necessary. We are trying to save lives, so the country has been shut down again. Health and safety aside, however, there are fundamental questions that need answers when these kinds of decisions are made. Covid cannot be the tidal wave that washes away the future for our students.

These checkpoint assessments are a snapshot of where students are at that moment in their development. These diagnostic tools allow teachers and administrators to know what strengths and weaknesses students have and the strengths and weaknesses in our system.

They allow for planning and preparation for how students are supported through transitions and when interventions are required. Having these assessments done in a robust manner with quality assurances could give us real data to gauge our present situation and the impact of Covid.

Students have been asked to adjust to virtual learning which is completely different and relies on the technology availability and the home support. These two factors alone create a level of inequality that increases the divide that exists during normal times. Added to these issues there have been several interruptions in the school calendar with holiday dates changed and terms shortened.

The students have had to deal with isolation from peers and teachers along with the emotional changes that this can bring. Without this snapshot status from the checkpoint assessment do we really know the impact that Covid-19 has had on learning over the last two school years.

After the most recent week of stay-at-home orders, we anticipate there will be lifting of some regulations, so we should hope to have some return to normalcy soon. What were the original dates of the assessments that had to be cancelled? Was there a chance to delay these assessments instead of cancelling them completely?

Do we have any other way of assessing the progress of education over the last two years that is as robust as these cancelled assessments? As we move to major change in our Education system over the next few years it would be critical to know whether our students, teachers and schools have missed benchmarks because of Covid-19.

Bermuda was already missing benchmarks and not able to give the needed support for many students that have specific needs. Now we add the potential that some students who have deficiencies in learning will be missed or slip through the cracks that Covid has created.

We must continue to put the safety, health and psychological wellbeing of students, teachers, and parents first, but we must also know for sure what impact Covid has had on learning. Our system was suffering prior to this pandemic and we cannot allow students to fall further behind.

We do not just compete in our small local community any longer and now must compete globally. If our students fall further behind the impact will be seen in our workforce in the future. Please make sure that we have a strong way to assess our students, teachers, and schools so we can properly plan for improvement.

- Ben Smith


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